This unbearable, breath-taking life – Holy Week Sermons 2019, St John’s, Fulham

Sermons for Holy Week 2019 preached at St John’s, Fulham

Seven pictures, seven poems, seven psalms.

For most of this week I will post the poem, picture and psalm, followed by my sermon for each day. On Palm Sunday and Easter Day the sermons, with children present, will be less text based and so not easily posted here! Likewise the Stations of the Cross and talks for the three hours devotion will be more extempore.

The sermon on Palm Sunday invited all present to deepen our friendship with Jesus. To do so by reflecting on the pictures in church, the psalms and poems provided, to acknowledge the darkness and light of our lives and to be determined to grow in holiness and to make a written commitment to doing so.

Palm Sunday

POEM

O, tell us poet, what do you do? – I praise.

but those dark, deadly, devastating ways,

how do you bear them? – I praise.

And the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze,

How do you call it, conjure it? – I praise.

Rainer Maria Rilke

PICTURE

PSALM

Psalm 6 Domine, ne in furore

2 Lord, do not reprove me in your anger; 

punish me not in your rage. 

3 Have mercy on me, Lord, I have no strength; 

Lord, heal me, my body is racked; 

4 my soul is racked with pain.

But you, O Lord…how long? 

5 Return, Lord, rescue my soul.

Save me in your merciful love; 

6 for in death no one remembers you; 

from the grave, who can give you praise?

7 I am exhausted with my groaning; 

every night I drench my pillow with tears; 

I bedew my bed with weeping. 

8 My eye wastes away with grief; 

I have grown old surrounded by my foes.

9 Leave me, all you who do evil; 

for the Lord has heard my weeping. 

10 The Lord has heard my plea; 

The Lord will accept my prayer. 

11 All my foes will retire in confusion, 

foiled and suddenly confounded.

***

Monday 15th April, 2019

POEM

Breath, you invisible poem –

pure exchange, sister to silence,

being and its counterbalance,

rhythm wherein I become,

ocean I accumulate

by stealth, by the same slow wave;

thriftiest of seas … Thief

of the whole cosmos! What estates,

what vast space have already poured

through my lungs? The four winds

are like daughters to me.

So do you know me, air, that once sailed

   through me?

You, that were once the lead and rind

of my every word?

Dan Paterson, Orpheus (inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke)

*
PICTURE


PSALM

Psalm 32 Beati quorum

1 Happy the man whose offense is forgiven,

whose sin is remitted.

2 O happy the man to whom the Lord 

imputes no guilt,

in whose spirit is no guile.

3 I kept it secret and my frame was wasted.

I groaned all day long,

4 for night and day your hand was heavy upon me.

Indeed my strength was dried up

as by the summer’s heat.

5 But now I have acknowledged my sins;

my guilt I did not hide.

I said: “I will confess 

my offense to the Lord.”

And you, Lord, have forgiven 

the guilt of my sin.

6 So let every good man pray to you 

in the time of need.

The floods of water may reach high 

but him they shall not reach.

7 You are my hiding place, O Lord;

you save me from distress.

(You surround me with cries of deliverance.)

* * *

8 I will instruct you and teach you

the way you should go;

I will give you counsel

with my eye upon you.

9 Be not like horse and mule, unintelligent, 

needing bridle and bit

else they will not approach you.

10 Many sorrows has the wicked

but he who trusts in the Lord,

loving mercy surrounds him.

* * *

11 Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord,

exult, you just!

O come, ring out your joy,

all you upright of heart.

SERMON

O, tell us poet, what do you do? – I praise.

but those dark, deadly, devastating ways,

how do you bear them? – I praise.

And the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze,

How do you call it, conjure it? – I praise.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Life is unbearable.

It is unbearable that even at this very moment every conceivable tragedy is happening somewhere in the world.

Not just the tragedies that make the news, not just the disasters we all know about and try to hide from our daily consciousness.  But the daily tragedies, of relationships that end, the friends, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, lovers who drop dead suddenly or linger in painful illness. 

Life is unbearable.

O, tell us poet, what do you do? – I praise.

but those dark, deadly, devastating ways,

how do you bear them? – I praise.

And the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze,

How do you call it, conjure it? – I praise.

 Tonight’s picture is this one painted in the style of an icon of the Jazz musician John Coltrane. 

I love the sound of the saxophone and the flames appearing in this picture from the instrument are a good illustration of its power, and the power of much music, to burn deeply in our souls. Born in 1926 Coltrane became a heroine and alcoholic addict before having a spiritual experience when he was in his early thirties which led him to break the power of these addictions in his life and describe his experience as “by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.  At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.”

Yesterday I suggested that this week we should all seek to become closer friends with Jesus. Friendship is the most precious and gentlest of gifts. Mother Tina and I have known each other for nearly a quarter of a century. For most of that time we have had no contact, but now we find ourselves, ministering together in Fulham, and belonging to the same priestly community, a precious thread of friendship. 

After Mass tonight, while some of you are having your Section 12 meeting, I shall be with my friend Paul who I met on my first day as an undergraduate 35 years ago and who lives just up the road from here.  A precious gift of friendship.

After Mass yesterday I was fascinated to see the gifts of friendship here at St John’s, the clusters of people gathering to chat, exchange news and prepare for the week ahead.  As Tina said to me they like to hang around!

Friendship. St Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honour and desire. This … is the perfection of life.”.

When we are with our friends, we know ourselves to be known, enjoyed, appreciated, paid attention to.

God, too, wants our friendship, he knows us, enjoys us, appreciates us, pays attention to us.

I don’t know when you last felt God’s knowing, enjoyment, appreciation of you, when you last felt God paying attention to you?

God wants us to now this, to experience this every day.  And I believe we can.

There is a powerful quote from John Coltrane on this icon:

“God breathes through us so completely … so gently we hardly feel it, yet, it is our everything …”

Seven poems, seven, pictures, seven psalms for Holy Week is my promise to you.

Tonight’s poem is a version of another poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, by the Yorkshire poet Dan Paterson, about breath.

Breath, you invisible poem –

pure exchange, sister to silence,

being and its counterbalance,

rhythm wherein I become,

ocean I accumulate

by stealth, by the same slow wave;

thriftiest of seas … Thief

of the whole cosmos! What estates,

what vast space have already poured

through my lungs? The four winds

are like daughters to me.

So do you know me, air, that once sailed

   through me?

You, that were once the lead and rind

of my every word?

This week as we seek to deepen our friendship with Jesus I will suggest that we make friends with our breath. I’ll be talking more about using breath in meditation and prayer on Good Friday afternoon at the Three Hours’ devotion.

Breath is our closest of friends. It is, as tonight’s first reading tells us, the gift of God.

And it is in breathing, I believe that we can face the unbearable sadness of life and come to do so joyfully. 

In breathing our breathing in, our taking hold, our possessing is equally matched by our breathing out. Breath is always tentative, always fragile, always vulnerable, always letting go.

In tonight’s Gospel Jesus is with is friends Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus who he raised from the dead.

The whole house is filled with the fragrance of the costly perfume she pours on Jesus’ feet. Those present breathe it in, but they can’t hold on to it. Fragrance comes and it goes. Like everything we possess and own and love.

Once we recognise that we can never possess anything, we can only enjoy it, appreciate it, pay attention to it we are free indeed. There is in life what one spiritual writer calls the ‘genuine heart of sadness’.

It doesn’t remove moments of joy, or lessen our times of delight, its like the deep spicy note of a good perfume that deepens it and allows it to linger. 

There is sadness in everything, but it is the sadness that tenderises. That opens and expands our hearts so that by loving the things that pass we can love everything. So that by knowing, enjoying, appreciating, paying attention to one things we can know, enjoy, appreciate, pay attention to everything.

That is what the psalms offer us.

Look at Psalm 32, the second psalm I offer you this Holy Week, 

I kept it secret and my frame was wasted.

I groaned all day long,

for night and day your hand was heavy upon me.

Indeed my strength was dried up

as by the summer’s heat.

When we keep our sadness secret, when we hold on to it as as something we possess we are dried up and wasted. This is why the psalms are the key source for Christian prayer. They give us the words to say it. To name the genuine heart of sadness. I would also recommend that you try writing your own psalm or poem, to name your sadness, to offer to God.

God instructs and teach us. As he says in Psalm 6, the psalm I gave you yesterday in the booklet, the Lord hears our weeping, the Lord hears our pleas, the Lord accepts our prayers.

As a community here at St John’s, there is a deep sadness at Fr Mark’s leaving, at this liminal, passover time of interregnum.  As a national church we all experience the deep sadness of decline, of the end of the church as we knew it and the passover to the church as God wants it.  As individuals we all have the deep sadness of the losses of our lives. You know yours as well as I know mine.

Sometimes it can feel, as the psalmist says in Psalm 6, that we have no strength, our body is racked even our souls are racked with pain.

Life is unbearable.

But life is also breath-taking. When we breathe out, until our last breath, we passover to the next breath and we breathe in again. Sometimes, almost in spite of ourselves.

Life can do no other than live. 

We take breath, our breath is taken away by beauty, by joy, by love, by friendship. 

You are barely more than strangers to me here at St John’s but by the end of the week I hope we will think of ourselves as friends and together that we will have deepened our relationship with 

Jesus, our mutual friend.

In his self-offering live

the wound of torment

became a healing spring,

the place of execution

a gateway into life. 

(Preface for Passiontide, Steven Shakespeare)

Dear friends here in Fulham, in your genuine heart of sadness there is already a healing spring, whatever your torments they are a gateway into life.

Friendship, sadness, breath.

We are the ones who God knows, enjoys, appreciates pays attention to. You and I.

Lord,

you bring us into being

and let our lives touch your heart:

may the fragrance of our worship

draw us closer to your open heart

and free us from our clinging

to the things we can control.

(Collect for Monday in Holy Week, Steven Shakespeare)

***

TUESDAY

POEM

Prayer

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer

utters itself. So, a woman will lift

her head from the sieve of her hands and stare

at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth

enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;

then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth

in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales

console the lodger looking out across

a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls

a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –

Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy

*
PICTURE – Icon, the Holy Family

*
PSALM

Psalm 38 Domine, ne in furore

2 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger;

do not punish me, Lord, in your rage.

3 Your arrows have sunk deep in me;

your hand has come down upon me.

4 Through your anger all my body is sick:

through my sin, there is no health in my limbs.

5 My guilt towers higher than my head;

it is a weight too heavy to bear.

6 My wounds are foul and festering,

the result of my own folly.

7 I am bowed and brought to my knees.

I go mourning all the day long.

8 All my frame burns with fever;

all my body is sick.

9 Spent and utterly crushed,

I cry aloud in anguish of heart.

10 O Lord, you know all my longing:

my groans are not hidden from you.

11 My heart throbs, my strength is spent;

the very light has gone from my eyes.

12 My friends avoid me like a leper;

those closest to me stand afar off.

13 Those who plot against my life lay snares;

those who seek my ruin speak of harm,

planning treachery all the day long.

14 But I am like the deaf who cannot hear,

like the dumb unable to speak.

15 I am like a man who hears nothing

in whose mouth is no defense.

16 I count on you, O Lord:

it is you, Lord God, who will answer.

17 I pray: “Do not let them mock me,

those who triumph if my foot should slip.”

18 For I am on the point of falling

and my pain is always before me.

19 I confess that I am guilty

and my sin fills me with dismay.

20 My wanton enemies are numberless

and my lying foes are many.

21 They repay me evil for good

and attack me for seeking what is right.

22 O Lord, do not forsake me!

My God, do not stay afar off!

23 Make haste and come to my help,

O Lord, my God, my saviour!

*

SERMON

“The Lord called me before I was born,
   while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.

(First reading of the Mass Isaiah 49:1-7)

Tonight’s picture is a modern icon of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Because I have spent most of my life working in schools with children from four to eighteen years of age I am always interested to see icons of Jesus at different stages of his development. There are very few, we mostly see Jesus as a babe in his mothers arms and then as an adult without much between. Modern iconography is making up for that.

Of course in a post-Freudian world and with our awareness of the fluidity of gender and the behaviour’s we associate with gender these images take on an interesting complexity. We could just try and avoid them or we can look at them an try and assimilate them into our spiritual lives with a meaning that feeds and sustains us.

The psalm we have just prayed together is one of the penitential psalms, a psalm of lament. Interestingly we don’t go in for lament much in the contemporary church. This strikes me as strange given that we we do talk a lot about woundedness snd we are all to aware of the damage that life has done us. Especially of the wounds that happen to us as children. Few of us have childhood’s of unalloyed bliss from which we emerge whole and confident to face the world. Mostly when we meet someone who we assume is like that we just don’t know them well enough yet.

In my ministry of Spiritual Direction I am constantly aware of the fragility of life. How a single event, perhaps in childhood, adolescence or later can have catastrophic effects that ripple out for the rest of life. We know this, of course, in fiction. The author Ian McKewan is the master of this in his books Atonement and Chesil Beach.

I am going to suggest two things that we can do in our spiritual lives that can help us assimilate our childhoods, our woundedness into our lives. I use the word assimilate carefully. I mean by this that we integrate these experiences into the wholeness of who we are so that we are authentically whole. Words like forgiveness, reconciliation seem to me somehow too loaded or even too trite for this.

The first practice is of prostration. It is an ancient form of Christian prayer and many scholars believe that the prophet Muhammed developed Muslim prayer from seeing the Christian Coptic monks of Egypt prostrating in their prayers. You might not be able to do a whole prostration, you may only be able to bow your head but that is enough.

Mostly famously prostrations are done with the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’

In our culture we are a little sceptical of bowing and prostration which is a shame I think. When we bow to another person we acknowledge the divine image in them.

It was powerful to see the Pope kiss the feet of the leaders of the opposing forces in the Sudan just last week.

When we prostrate we are admitting that we are connected to the other. That we are not separate.

At Plum Village, his community in France, Buddhist teacher Thich Naht Hanh has noticed that western students suffer from these issues and he suggests that as we prostrate we do so using these or similar words:

“I see my mother and father, whose blood, flesh, and vitality are circulating in my own veins and nourishing every cell in me. Through them, I see my four grandparents. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been transmitted from so many generations of ancestors. I carry in me the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all generations. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. I see my roots in my father, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers, and all my ancestors.

All the energy I have received I now want to transmit to my father, my mother, everyone I love, all who have suffered and worried because of me and for my sake. I know I have not been mindful enough in my daily life. I also know that those who love me have had their own difficulties. They have suffered because they were not lucky enough to have an environment that encouraged their full development. I transmit my energy to my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, my beloved ones, my husband, my wife, my daughter, and my son, so that their pain will be relieved, so they can smile and feel the joy of being alive. I want all of them to be healthy and joyful. I know that when they are happy, I will also be happy. I no longer feel resentment towards any of them. I pray that all ancestors in my blood and spiritual families will focus their energies toward each of them, to protect and support them. I know that I am not separate from them. I am one with those I love.

The second practice I suggest for using an icon like this of the Holy Family it to put ourselves in the place of each of the people pictured in the icon. Not in some sort of stereotyped way but in what we know of them from Scripture:

Looking at Jesus, can we imagine God saying to us “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”? Even if we feel an inner resistance to believing that it is worth persisting.

Looking at Mary, can we, like her the first believer say Yes to God? When she said yes to the angel she cannot possibly have known all that would be involved. When we say yes to God we do not know what we are saying yes to, faith is not blind but it can only be for now.

Looking at Joseph are we people who dream God’s dreams? Are we aware of what is going on deep within us and are we obedient to integrating that into our lives?

Looking at the whole family do we nurture others? Allowing them to be themselves so that they can be more than they are now? Do we allow people to change, grow and develop?

Today’s poem is about prayer. We know that prayer is not just about lists of requests. It can be about silence, sitting still in the presence of God. But it can also be about integrating our experiences, our childhood, our depressions and anxieties, even our mental illnesses and traumas into our lives. When we are true to ourselves in our prayer “the truth enters our hearts, that small familiar pain” and we experience a passover, an exhalation of the breath, a liminal moment when we see the transparency of the way things are, the transparency even of our own lives and the story we tell of them, the narrative that inhabits us, and we can see something through it that is not us.

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer

utters itself. So, a woman will lift

her head from the sieve of her hands and stare

at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth

enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;

then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth

in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales

console the lodger looking out across

a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls

a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –

Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Sir, we wish to see Jesus. The Greeks ask the apostles. Our mission, our evangelism is to bring people to meet our friend Jesus. We want them to know Jesus because we believe that knowing him is the best life possible.

Last night I spoke about the importance of ‘the genuine heart of sadness’ in our spiritual lives. There is a deep sadness in this poem by Carol Ann Duffy. But we don’t find joy by running away from this. Deep joy comes when we hear the chanted prayer in the rhythms of life. When we discover the “sudden gift” in every moment. When we integrate our “youth”, the “dusk”, the “darkness”. When we stand “stock-still” and find that God is here, wherever we are. Hic et nunc. Here and now. This is Jesus, made flesh in our flesh. Made known in our lives, our friendship with him.

***

WEDNESDAY

POEM

Advent Calendar
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams

*
PICTURE – Icon, the black Madonna

Read an interview with the artist here.

*
PSALM

Psalm 51 Miserere mei, Deus

3 Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.

In your compassion blot out my offense.

4 O wash me more and more from my guilt

and cleanse me from my sin.

5 My offenses truly I know them;

my sin is always before me

6 Against you, you alone, have I sinned;

what is evil in your sight I have done.

That you may be justified when you give sentence

and be without reproach when you judge,

7 O see, in guilt I was born,

a sinner was I conceived.

8 Indeed you love truth in the heart;

then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.

9 O purify me, then I shall be clean;

O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

10 Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,

that the bones you have crushed may thrill.

11 From my sins turn away your face

and blot out all my guilt.

12 A pure heart create for me, O God,

put a steadfast spirit within me.

13 Do not cast me away from your presence,

nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

14 Give me again the joy of your help;

with a spirit of fervour sustain me,

15 that I may teach transgressors your ways

and sinners may return to you.

16 O rescue me, God, my helper,

and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.

17 O Lord, open my lips

and my mouth shall declare your praise.

SERMON

The images of The Cathedral of Notre Dame burning on Tuesday night were breath-taking. They took my breath away. To see that building that I love, that I have visited so often, where I have lit so many candles and prayed so many prayers engulfed in flame. That image from the air of the cruciform church, the cross burning in the night, will stay with me for ever.

My breath is taken away often when I read Scripture. Words that burn into my soul, even though I may have heard them, read them, prayed them many times over in my life. The psalm we are considering today and which we have just prayed together is a little like that. I know this psalm well. I pray this psalm daily in Lent and every week for the rest of the year. But still it takes my breath away. It is a surprisingly tender psalm, seeking the loving-kindness of our God. A God who will give us a pure heart, a steadfast spirit, the joy of being in the divine presence.

I really recommend that you read the psalms as part of your daily prayer. They are so rich, so complex, so dense that you will never tire of them. Don’t worry about understanding them, the psalms are words for the heart as much as the mind. Learn sections of them or your favourite psalms by heart, make the words part of your mind, your mental store.

We normally use the word breath-taking for moments of great beauty, an incredible view, a great picture or building. But we also use it for great cheek, for someone who does something that takes our breath away. “How dare she?!”

Breath-taking is a good way to describe our surprising God.

At Christmas we are sometimes so taken up in the busy-ness, the preparations, the family stuff, that we don’t take time to meditate on images like the one we are looking at now.

Most of us are breath-taken when we see a new-born baby or a mother feeding her child.

This very recent icon by Yvonne Bell is called Mother of God of Clemency. Just like the clemency, the mercy we are praying for in Psalm 51. The icon was painted in memory of a black boy who had been murdered outside a church. Many of the ‘black Madonnas’ around the world are just images of a white woman that have become blackened over time. This is a true black woman and her baby.

It is an image of the deepest possible, the most profound tenderness. This word tender, tenderness is an important one in the spiritual life. Remember that in the Exodus story Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. Tenderness is the opposite of a hard heart. A tender heart is a heart that feels.

Life can harden our hearts, we can become resentful, embittered, cynical. We end up using all sorts of strategies not to feel things. We can’t bear the pain.

But Jesus is the pain-bearer. He is the one that carries the pain so that we can all see that the pain is unbearable, but that to live without pain is not to live at all. Pain is not so much the cost of living as the necessary warp to the weft of joy. Woven into life pain and joy hold us together.

Jesus is the tender-hearted one, he weeps, he loves, he has deep friendships, there is no cynicism in him, no sense of being the victim. Just the willingness to feel, to live. Jesus shows us that we are strongest not when we close our hearts or protect them but when we are fearless of the pain. A popular book a few years ago had the title “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. Jesus teaches us that we should feel the pain and do it anyway.

Just as when we looked at the icon of the Holy Family yesterday a good technique for praying this icon is to imagine ourselves both as the child and the mother.

We are the one needing tender mother-love, we need nurturing, feeding, teaching (as in today’s first reading from Isaiah). We are the one who, as in today’s gospel, will be betrayed. There is no love, no friendship, no tenderness without betrayal.

But we can also be the mother with her amazing, wide, tender eyes, who sees all this and knows that it is worth it. Mary’s eyes are wide enough to see the whole world. She is the all-seeing mother. She sees us, she sees the pain, the joy, the warp and the weft, and she is always tender. Her eyes are like immense oceans wide enough, open enough to absorb everything. The pain, the joy, the montony: life.

To be Mary, is to be the one who pays attention. The friend who sees, who listens. Who stands alongside with a hand on the shoulder.

There is a lovely verse in Genesis 16:3 that I have been carrying with me for the last few weeks. It concerns a Hebrew name for God, El-Ro-i, the God who sees.

“Thou art a God who sees me.” The verse says.

We are the God-seen, God sees us, knows us for who we are, knows we will betray him even as we love him. Knows that we are capable of immense, breath-taking tenderness.

When God sees us, he desires us, wants to be with us.

God is a God who comes to us. Like, as Rowan Williams puts it in today’s poem, “last leaf’s fall” so tenderly, so gently that God’s presence with us is like a leaf falling in the breeze. Like frost that appears in the morning. Like mist. Like the dark.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

God will come to us when our hearts are tender enough to receive him, as tender as this mother holding her child. As tender as this child reaching his hand out to his mother.

We the God-seen take God’s breath away and all God can do is come to us.

Advent Calendar
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

***

THURSDAY

POEM

*
PICTURE – Rublev, Trinity

The Lord’s Supper

There was infection in the air and things looked bad,

All nature’s colours were edged with an inky stain,

And a shepherd on the hillside was gathering his sheep and counting them,

Counting the stupid sheep of maggoty, putrid sins.

It was quiet in the Church, and there was terror in the silence,

Terror from the altar and the Cross and the east in the glass,

And the chancel so strangely distant and the ceiling so high above,

And we in the hollow kneeling like dark and dirty clods.

Bethlehem came down from heaven to the middle of the Communion service,

With its angels and shepherds and dumb, unwilling animals,

And Mary tidily tying God’s immortality in his nappy,

And rocking eternity to sleep in his cradle.

He didn’t chuck our bit of flesh like a rag on the rubbish tips of Gehenna,

Or throw our blood there like a bottle of dried up medicine,

But raised them from the grip of the worms’ matchless three days

As a transparent spiritual body, the perfection of God and man.

The sound of falling water in the chancel was like a city square in Italy,

Flowing along the bed of ritual and devotion from heaven’s fountains

And a ray of light playing around the cross, dimming the two candles,

A ray from the pyre of His divine humanity.

And outside the deadly darkness of the yew tree in Llanbadarn turned

To a spring of green overflowing with song,

And the sea raced to embrace the Rheidol and the Ystwyth,

With its foam aflame and its waves all on fire.

D. Gwenallt Jones tr. Patrick Thomas

*
PSALM

Psalm 102 Domine, exaudi

2 O Lord, listen to my prayer

and let my cry for help reach you.

3 Do not hide your face from me 

in the day of my distress.

Turn your ear towards me 

and answer me quickly when I call.

4 For my days are vanishing like smoke,

my bones burn away like a fire.

5 My heart is withered like the grass.

I forget to eat my bread.

6 I cry with all my strength 

and my skin clings to my bones.

7 I have become like a pelican in the wilderness

like an owl in desolate places.

8 I lie awake and I moan 

like some lonely bird on a roof.

9 All day long my foes revile me;

those who hate me use my name as a curse.

10 The bread I eat is ashes;

my drink is mingled with tears.

11 In your anger, Lord, and your fury

you have lifted me up and thrown me down.

12 My days are like a passing shadow

and I wither away like the grass.

13 But you, O Lord, will endure for ever

and your name from age to age.

14 You will arise and have mercy on Zion:

for this is the time to have mercy,

(yes, the time appointed has come)

15 for your servants love her very stones,

are moved with pity even for her dust.

16 The nations shall fear the name of the Lord

and all the earth’s kings your glory,

17 when the Lord shall build up Zion again

and appear in all his glory.

18 Then he will turn to the prayers of the helpless;

he will not despise their prayers.

19 Let this be written for ages to come

that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord;

20 for the Lord leaned down from his sanctuary on high.

He looked down from heaven to the earth

21 that he might hear the groans of the prisoners

and free those condemned to die.

29 The sons of your servants shall dwell untroubled

and their race shall endure before you

22 that the name of the Lord may be proclaimed in Zion

and his praise in the heart of Jerusalem,

23 when peoples and kingdoms are gathered together

to pay their homage to the Lord.

* * *

24 He has broken my strength in mid-course;

he has shortened the days of my life.

25 I say to God: “Do not take me away 

before my day are complete,

you, whose days last from age to age.

26 Long ago you founded the earth

and the heavens are the work of your hands.

27 They will perish but you will remain.

They will are wear out like a garment.

You will change them like clothes that are changed.

28 But you neither change, nor have an end.”

*

SERMON

Seven psalms, Seven pictures, Seven poems was my promise to you last Sunday. Today is day 5.

Even if you have not been able to be at church on the last three days please do use the booklet of psalms for your prayers, have a look at the pictures here in church which will be here until after Mass on Sunday, there is a link to the text of the weekday sermons on the parish website and that will take you to my blog where you will also find the poems I have used.

Have a look too at the pledge card I gave out on Sunday and which I suggested you fill out that day. “I will grow in holiness this week by …”.

It doesn’t matter if you filled in that card or not, whether you have been to any of the services this week so far or not, whether your friendship with Jesus is deeper, closer or not.

There is still time.

Jesus is still waiting to put his arm around your shoulder, to stand alongside you, to be your friend, part of your life. But more than that God who sees you, who knows you, who knows the story of your life, when he sees you, me, each of us, desires us, he wants to be with us, he yearns for our friendship.

God’s yearning is never more real than when we remember the events that we call to mind tonight. Jesus at a meal with his friends and Jesus alone in the agony in the garden of Gethsemani.

Psalm 102 is the psalm I have suggested for today. Like many of the psalms the Christian tradition, notably St Augustine of Hippo, has seen these words as the words of Christ. The psalms are Jesus praying, sometimes in the mouth of the church, sometimes in the circumstances of his own life, sometimes through our own lives. But this one could almost have been written for this night before he died.

2 O Lord, listen to my prayer

and let my cry for help reach you.

3 Do not hide your face from me 

in the day of my distress.

Turn your ear towards me 

and answer me quickly when I call.

4 For my days are vanishing like smoke,

my bones burn away like a fire.

5 My heart is withered like the grass.

I forget to eat my bread.

6 I cry with all my strength 

and my skin clings to my bones.

7 I have become like a pelican in the wilderness

like an owl in desolate places.

8 I lie awake and I moan 

like some lonely bird on a roof.

9 All day long my foes revile me;

those who hate me use my name as a curse.

10 The bread I eat is ashes;

my drink is mingled with tears.

11 In your anger, Lord, and your fury

you have lifted me up and thrown me down.

12 My days are like a passing shadow

and I wither away like the grass.

*

24 He has broken my strength in mid-course;

he has shortened the days of my life.

25 I say to God: “Do not take me away 

before my day are complete,

you, whose days last from age to age.

*

Jesus, like so many people in the world at this very moment, like most of us at some point in our lives, feels isolated and alone, abandoned and uncared for.

When we are in those moments we all know that there is little anyone can say to make us feel better, to get us out of the morass.

But there are two elements of the Christian tradition that I want to suggest for us tonight that we can all make part of our lives and if we do they will change our lives.

They are quite simply Eucharist, the Mass, and time spent in silence with God.

If you, like Jesus, are in a dark place this evening, know that Jesus is with you, that his arm is around your shoulder. But if so it may be hard to begin these practices tonight. We need to build these habits into our lives when everything is going relatively well so that when we are in need the habits will assert themselves whatever our circumstances.

A warning: research suggests that it takes 60 to 90 days, 2 to 3 months to change our habits!

So here is tonight’s poem, you should also have it on a card. It is by David Gwenallt Jones, often just known as Gwenallt. One of my favourite, among many favourite Welsh poets, of the twentieth century:

The Lord’s Supper

There was infection in the air and things looked bad,

All nature’s colours were edged with an inky stain,

And a shepherd on the hillside was gathering his sheep and counting them,

Counting the stupid sheep of maggoty, putrid sins.

It was quiet in the Church, and there was terror in the silence,

Terror from the altar and the Cross and the east in the glass,

And the chancel so strangely distant and the ceiling so high above,

And we in the hollow kneeling like dark and dirty clods.

Bethlehem came down from heaven to the middle of the Communion service,

With its angels and shepherds and dumb, unwilling animals,

And Mary tidily tying God’s immortality in his nappy,

And rocking eternity to sleep in his cradle.

He didn’t chuck our bit of flesh like a rag on the rubbish tips of Gehenna,

Or throw our blood there like a bottle of dried up medicine,

But raised them from the grip of the worms’ matchless three days

As a transparent spiritual body, the perfection of God and man.

The sound of falling water in the chancel was like a city square in Italy,

Flowing along the bed of ritual and devotion from heaven’s fountains

And a ray of light playing around the cross, dimming the two candles,

A ray from the pyre of His divine humanity.

And outside the deadly darkness of the yew tree in Llanbadarn turned

To a spring of green overflowing with song,

And the sea raced to embrace the Rheidol and the Ystwyth,

With its foam aflame and its waves all on fire.

D. Gwenallt Jones tr. Patrick Thomas

*

At the meeting on Monday evening when parish representatives and the PCC members met with Bishop Graham to think about your new vicar people talked about the liturgy in this church as conveying a mystery.

When we celebrate the Eucharist as we do here tonight “there [is] terror in the silence,

Terror from the altar and the Cross and the east in the glass,

And the chancel so strangely distant and the ceiling so high above

When we celebrate Eucharist we know the power of the “deadly darkness”, we know the fragility of our human lives, that we might seem to be not much more than “a rag of flesh”, our blood like “a bottle of dried up medicine”.

But God sees us, he sees you and me, each one of us, and he sees more than that.

God sees that we are overflowing with song, that Bethlehem is here at this altar, here in us, that in us the “foam is aflame” and “the waves are on fire”.

We human beings are a strange mixture of heavenly longings and fleshly mess.

We sit on the toilet … and we chant psalms.

For a few years I used to inspect church schools to see how they were doing at their Christian character. I would often see pictures of rainbows and daffodils, beautiful sunsets and inspiring messages. But I was most impressed when I saw evidence that schools were addressing the dark side of life. The things we are scared of, the terrors that dwell at the back of our minds. There is no school where there are not children for whom those terrors are very real. Where some child has not had a bereavement, parents divorce, family members suffering illness, children who have been abused physically or emotionally or worse. It is no wonder that Grimm’s Fairy Tales are such dark reading.

The mystery of our Eucharist is not that it can rid the world of terror and darkness but that it can give us the strength to bear the unbearable. To find “the ray of light playing around the cross”, to sit at table with strangers and friends and to find that we have entertained angels unawares.

And that is what we see in our picture tonight, our fifth picture of the week. It is quite well known, an icon painted by a Russian monk, Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century, the original is in Moscow.

It is often described as an icon of the Trinity. But really it is illustrating the Hospitality of Abraham in a story in Genesis where, in the desert, three strangers approach Abraham and he welcomes them to his table for a meal.

I have loved this icon ever since I first came to know it when I was 17. A lifetime meditating on it doesn’t exhaust it. You can see the underlying architecture of the design, the circle of the figures, the triangular shape. The oak of Mamre where the event is said to have occurred.

For Christians the event is interpreted as a sign of the Trinity, the three figures, the three angels indicating the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The meal, the table they are at, are signs for us of our Eucharist.

When we celebrate the Mass we sit at the table of God the Trinity, this is unbearable, breath-taking madness, You and I, each one of us is a guest of the divinity. And here, at the front of the table is a space for everyone that looks at this icon. A space for you, for me, for every person that is walking past this church tonight, a space for every person living in this parish here today, in this city, in this country in our world.

I hope you will see that there is a profound stillness about the figures and the icon. That is the stillness we can enter into in silent prayer. Time given just for God as pure gift without any expectation. I will be talking more about that during the three hours tomorrow. Silence will transform us into fearless people, who know Jesus and can talk about Jesus.

Our faith is always missionary, always evangelistic. If sitting at the table was just a possession for ourselves it would be another form of selfishness.

At the meeting on Monday Bishop Graham spoke about the importance of this evangelisation. Every one here tonight knows someone who needs to feel the touch of Jesus hand on their shoulder. Who we can invite to church. Not generically ‘come to church some time’ but specifically, at this date and this time. “I will knock on your door and bring you. I will sit with you, show you where the hymns are, introduce you to people over coffee.”

As tonight’s psalm puts it “peoples and kingdoms [will be] gathered together” and it is our job to do that. Your job here in Walham Green, here in Fulham.

The church is never a club, it does not exist for itself but for the many folk. We are here to tell people the good news that this unbearable, breath-taking life is a miracle.

And that we see that miracle in Eucharist, in praise, in thanksgiving, just as we began the week with these deep words, these profound lines from Rilke:

O, tell us poet, what do you do? – I praise.

but those dark, deadly, devastating ways,

how do you bear them? – I praise.

And the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze,

How do you call it, conjure it? – I praise.

It is indeed right to give you thanks and praise.

***

GOOD FRIDAY

Outline of the Three Hours:

*

POEM

True Love

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,

By just exchange one for the other given:

I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;

There never was a bargain better driven.

His heart in me keeps me and him in one,

My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides;

He loves my heart for once it was his own;

I cherish his because in me it bides.

His heart his wound receivèd from my sight;

My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;

For as from me on him his hurt did light,

So still methought in me his hurt did smart:

Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,

My true love hath my heart and I have his.

Sir Philip Sydney

*
PICTURE – fr Eric, Isaac

*
PSALM

Psalm 130 De profundis

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,

2 Lord, hear my voice!

O let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my pleading.

3 If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,

Lord, who would survive?

4 But with you is found forgiveness:

for this we revere you.

5 My soul is waiting for the Lord.

I count on his word.

6 My soul is longing for the Lord

more than watchman for daybreak.

(Let the watchman count on daybreak

7 and Israel on the Lord.)

Because with the Lord there is mercy

and fullness of redemption,

8 Israel indeed he will redeem

from all its iniquity.

*

SERMON

Sometime when I am annoyed by a crowd I can’t get through, a tube train too busy to get on, a queue at the Post Office, I have a little prayer practice that I use that helps break my frustration. I try and look at as many individuals as I can and in my head think that greeting that we use in the liturgy: The Lord be with you. Dominus Vobiscum.

None of these strangers can I ever know this little prayer that I offer them. None of them can respond, And also with you. Et cum spiritu tuo. And with your spirit.

Every human being has depth. It is the meaning of our life. Of my life, your life, each of our lives. It is the depth that makes every human life meaningful however anonymous, hidden, seemingly unimportant.

I want to think about just four words in he psalm in our booklets for today. Psalm 130. The words are the first four words of the psalm “Out of the depths.” In Latin De Profundis.

From the most profound place of our being I cry out.

Every human being has depth.

Deep calls to deep. Abyssus abyssum invocat.

One depth caries out, reaches out, to touch another depth.

Day six of my eight days with you. Seven psalms, seven poems, seven pictures.

But the pictures just reflect who you are, here at St John’s, Fulham.

In our conversations, in the moments I have spent with you, in my seeing you as individuals and as a community. I have simply seen the depths of who you are as people.

We can do that for each other because we are made of the same stuff. We are human.

Jesus’ death on. Across would be meaningless if we were just individuals disconnected from one another.

His death has meaning because his depth is our depth, Because every human being has depth.

And the depth of our human being, our experience, takes our breath away. It is unbearable.

Isn’t this why God who sees us and desires us, wants us, calls for our friendship became human? He could not bear to see us and be separate from us. In Jesus he is us. Every human being has depth. Like Jesus.

And this unbearable nature of our being is never clearer than in a story that today’s picture illustrates. It is a story that takes our breath away.

God tells Abraham – remember it was Abraham that had met the three angels in the desert in the picture we looked at yesterday – God tells Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac to the mountain. Build a fire there and offer Isaac as a sacrifice.

Here in this picture we see Abraham’s hands large on Isaac’s shoulders and Isaac, the boy, just reaching his fingers out to touch the fingers of his father’s hands. A father who is willing to sacrifice him. Kill him. Offer him to God.

Fortunately God doesn’t demand the sacrifice but provides a ram for the offering instead.

God tests Abraham and Abraham passes the test. It is not a test I would pass. It is a test that I would rage against and rage against God at.

I find this picture, it is a stained glass window in the crypt of the community church at Taize in France, I find this picture unbearable to loot at. yet there is something about it that I cannot look away from.

A prayer I was praying yesterday (by Steven Shakespeare a theologian and brother priest in the Diocese of Liverpool) put it like this:

“Lord, you call us to watch with you

On this line between dream and waking,

Sense and madnes

The story of Abraham and Isaac is madness. Unbearable. Breathtaking.

I often wonder about Isaac. His name means the one who laughs.

How did he grow up knowing that his father would have done this thing?

In fact we do know something about how Isaac grows up. And it is in one of my favourite biblical passages.

Genesis 24 verses 62 to 67

Now Isaac had come from Beer-la′hai-roi, and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she alighted from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man yonder, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent,  and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

I love the idea of this man, no doubt thoughtful and meditative after the experience of his childhood, walking in the early evening, meditating in the cool light once the sun has started setting.

Looking up in that half light he sees camels with their riders coming towards him.

One of those riders is Rebekah.

They are married and they love each other. And, Isaac’s mother having died, he is comforted by his marriage. Perhaps his mother had become important to Isaac after the events of Abraham’s childhood!

I like to Think of this of this marvellous passage as the only account of two people in the bible at the moment they fall in love with each other. There in the desert in the cool of the evening.

I cannot begin to understand this powerful story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son. It is unbearable. Breathtaking.

I cannot begin to understand how two people, two human beings fall in love. It is breath taking. It takes our breath away when we are in love.

Whether you have been in love or not. Think about those breath taking moments of your life. It is that depth of passion that God has for us, fo you for me. For each one of us.

We are each of us God’s true love. As this poem by the sixteenth century poet Sir Philip Sydney puts it in a love poem of God for the soul.

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,

By just exchange one for the other given:

I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;

There never was a bargain better driven.

His heart in me keeps me and him in one,

My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides;

He loves my heart for once it was his own;

I cherish his because in me it bides.

His heart his wound receivèd from my sight;

My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;

For as from me on him his hurt did light,

So still methought in me his hurt did smart:

Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,

My true love hath my heart and I have his.

Sir Philip Sydney

I cannot explain the crucifixion. I cannot explain God’s testing of Abraham. I cannot explain the mystery of two people falling in love.

But I know that every human being has depth. That every human being can know that breath-taking, unbearable moment of knowing God’s presence. That is my prayer for you here at St John’s this triduum. Even if just for a fleeting moment that each of us will know that there “never was a bargain better driven” That his heart, his depth, the centre of his being, dwells in me and mine in his.

Those moments of knowing God’ presence are exquisitely painful and utterly profound at the same time.

Our hearts are wounded with his wounded heart.Out of the depths, deep speaks to deep. And we can say to Jesus, to one another. Dominus vobiscum.

The Lord be with you.

***

SATURDAY at the Easter Vigil

POEM

The Stolen Orange

When I went out I stole an orange

I kept it in my pocket

It felt like a warm planet

Everywhere I went smelt of oranges

Whenever I got into an awkward situation

I’d take out the orange and smell it

And immediately on even dead branches I saw

the lovely and fierce orange blossom

that smells so much of joy

When I went out I stole an orange

It was a safeguard against imagining

there was nothing bright or special in the world

Brian Patten

*
PICTURE – Icon, the baptism

*
PSALM

Psalm 143 Domine, exaudi

1 Lord, listen to my prayer:

turn your ear to my appeal. 

You are faithful, you are just; give answer. 

2 Do not call your servant to judgment 

for no one is just in your sight.

3 The enemy pursues my soul; 

he has crushed my life to the ground; 

he has made me dwell in darkness 

like the dead, long forgotten. 

4 Therefore my spirit fails; 

my heart is numb within me.

5 I remember the days that are past: 

I ponder all your works. 

I muse on what your hand has wrought 

6 and to you I stretch out my hands. 

Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.

7 Lord, make haste and answer; 

for my spirit fails within me. 

Do not hide your face 

lest I become like those in the grave.

8 In the morning let me know your love 

for I put my trust in you. 

Make me know the way I should walk: 

to you I lift up my soul.

9 Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies; 

I have fled to you for refuge. 

10 Teach me to do your will 

for you, O Lord, are my God. 

Let your good spirit guide me 

in ways that are level and smooth.

11 For your name’s sake, Lord, save my life; 

in your justice save my soul from distress. 

12 In your love make an end of my foes; 

destroy all those who oppress me 

for I am your servant, O Lord.

*

SERMON Easter Vigil

10 Teach me to do your will 

for you, O Lord, are my God. 

Let your good spirit guide me 

in ways that are level and smooth.

11 For your name’s sake, Lord, save my life; 

in your justice save my soul from distress.  Ps 143

*

Seven psalms, seven poems and seven pictures was my promise a week ago. And this is day 7, so you may be relieved to reach the end of the marathon.

Do use the psalm booklets at home some time for your prayers or the book of psalms in your Bibles. They are God’s prayers for us. Powerful words that can transform our lives.

Tonight I just want to think about a single line from psalm 143. Half a verse:

“For your name’s sake, Lord save my life.”

Have you been saved? Do you feel saved? Do you feel safe?

Holy Week reminds us that the world is a dangerous place. Almost unbearably so.

But it also reminds us that this unbearableness is what makes it so exquisitely precious. So stunningly beautiful, so breathtakingly wonderful.

I don’t know if you know Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” it is an extraordinarily wonderful book. The film, by the way, is no comparison.

Kundera’s philosophical thesis is that life is a series of moments that can never be repeated and that it is this transitory, fleeting nature of life that make it so light.

If you have been here at every liturgy this week you will have heard me use the word unbearable many times. Like Kundera I think this unbearable quality of life is what makes it so exquisitely wonderful. We cannot grasp it, hold on to it, possess it. We can only experience it and as soon as we have experienced this moment, the next is already here … and gone again.

Tonight at this liturgy we hear a succession of moments, the history of God’s engagement with people, from Creation through redemption to the promised land, from incarnation to atonement. But these moments are not possessions for us to hold on to. They teach us that the moments, the story of our life, your life, my life, each of our lives is precious to God.

Jesus says “Do this to remember me” not so that we live in some moment in the past but so that we live in the here and now. We human beings are forgetful creatures. But what we forget is the present. We get stuck in the past, regrets, recriminations, resentment, or holding on to past pleasures and joys, or we get caught in a future we imagine, terror or yearning for what might happen. Yet the whole of the Christian tradition is about teaching us to remember now, to wake up to here, to pay attention to today, hodie.

I couldn’t go through this Holy Week without bringing some Scouse wisdom to Fulham. Here is one of my favourite poems by Brian Patten, one of the Beat poets.

When I went out I stole an orange

I kept it in my pocket

It felt like a warm planet

Everywhere I went smelt of oranges

Whenever I got into an awkward situation

I’d take out the orange and smell it

And immediately on even dead branches I saw

the lovely and fierce orange blossom

that smells so much of joy.

When I went out I stole an orange

It was a safeguard against imagining

there was nothing bright or special in the world.

Brian Patten

Everything we have done this week:

  • Taking bread and wine
  • Washing the feet
  • Watching til midnight
  • Kissing the wood
  • Lighting the fire
  • Telling the stories
  • Plunging the candle into the water
  • Sprinkling with water

All of this is to wake us up.

This is salvation. To be saved from sin, to be saved from the burden of our past, our sin, the world’s sin, and to be washed to be set free to live.

And living may mean no outward change to our lives at all.

Our loneliness may not go away, our having to care for elderly parents, our disappointment at our jobs or the boredom of the day to day. But we can be free even as we do these things when we learn to see “the fierce orange blossom that smells so much of joy” when we see that the world is full of bright and special things. And then that joy will radiate from us, the people who say that Christianity means nothing to them and that they do not need Jesus will see that they too want to be saved, saved from the past and the future, saved for now.

They too will want as in tonight’s icon of the baptism of Christ to be plunged into saving water. To feel the freedom of living in God’s present. They too will feel that the unbearable nature of life is what makes it breath taking. That when we gulp for air as we drown in the waters we are fully alive, they too will hear the words that God says to me, to you, to each of us, to Jesus:

You are my Beloved in whom I am well pleased.

For your name’s sake Lord, save my life. Said the psalmist.

I love this icon, look at this pillar, this corridor of energy that cuts through the whole icon. That energy is what is made available to us in our Baptism. The energy of fire and water.

Water that cleanses, refreshes, renews but also drowns.

Fire that warms, melts, enlightens, but also burns.

Our baptism, the day when we were committed to Jesus, when either on our own behalf or by others we rejected Satan, all that diminishes life and we accepted Jesus as the most alive person there has ever been, as Lord and Saviour, surrounded by this great cloud of witness, the baptised of every time and place.

All of that is opening our eyes to see even on dead branches the lovely and fierce blossom, the breath-taking and unbearable gift of life.

Citrus blossom in the garden this Easter weekend.

***

SUNDAY – The resurrection of the Lord


PICTURE – Icon, the resurrection


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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for posting your journey through Holy Week. The icons, poetry and psalms have been just perfect and have reminded me, as a Catholic, of the importance of an ecumenical connection – brothers and sisters of one Christ who have all waited in the darkness for His glorious resurrection. You are so right – Along with the rainbows in school we must embrace the darkness, sit in its presence and understand that God’s loving hands are there to protect us at such times – thank you, Father Richard.

    Like

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