‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
Did you make pancakes this week? We love pancakes at the Vicarage and usually make a big deal of getting everyone’s favourite fillings* together on the table and then we share making them and eating them together. This year we did the pancake event two weeks early as it was important for us to all be together rather than on the right day. And that has been something that has happened time and time again this past year. We can’t celebrate when we want to. We can’t be with the people we want to be with. So much that is important about being family and community has been taken away by the pandemic.
This has all meant that the beginning of Lent and this week’s reading about Jesus going into the desert did not fill me with joy. As far as giving things up I made this poster for the outside of the church. If you don’t want to give up anything for Lent then this vicar is giving you permission because we have already given up so much this year.
One thing I’ve noticed this year is the speed at which our reading from Mark 1 9-15 goes from triumph to desolation. We hear about Jesus’ baptism and affirmation as the beloved son but next moment Jesus is driven into the desert to be tempted. This year I wanted Jesus to have a bit more of the good stuff before he was off to the long hard road in the desert. This may say more about me than the gospel but it is indicative of pandemic fatigue; that we are nearly a year into living with restrictions and lockdown.
Yet the desert is a powerful place of change and transformation. It is the place where the early church fathers ran to find Jesus when their world became too comfortable. It is the place where without distractions we are alone with God. It is the place where we are ourselves. We are ourselves without the social mask as there is no one to be social with. We are present before God as we are in all our imperfections and faults. No wonder the desert is a hard place and it is seem as a place to be avoided or rushed through.
As we begin to think about how we might find a new normal perhaps we might reflect on how the past year has been a desert. For many it has been very hard. Part of the recovery from trauma is to name what has been difficult. Others may well have had it harder but to deny that this last year has been costly will keep us in denial and out of touch with who we are as beloved children of God going through a unique moment in history.
If we can name what is costly we might be able to find some wisdom and truth in the desert. This isn’t easy but some questions to ask might be:
What have we learnt about ourselves?
What have been our distractions?
What were our temptations?
This is not easy work. We hear how in the desert the angels waited on Jesus so it is ok to find this hard.
The strange thing about trauma is that afterwards; after the frantic coping, the grieving and the lament there is the moment when we come out of the desert, the dark place and say ‘and yet.’ And yet I learnt that God is with me, and yet I learnt that I have good neighbours and yet I am more resilient that I thought I could be
Jesus went into the desert. After struggle and hard times he went into the next stage of his ministry. How might we learn from the desert experience we have been in and are perhaps still in and live in the next stage of our Christian lives?
If that feels very challenging it is worth remembering that in Charlie Mackesy’s book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, the boy asks the horse a question: “’What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said? asked the boy. ‘Help,’ said the horse.” If you are feeling in need of help, be brave and ask for it.
These words come from later in Jesus’ ministry ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’
Have a blessed, desert Lent
*butter and marmite in case you were wondering.
Mark 1.9-15In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
This week’s service is in podcast form. The vicar is feeling a bit rough and waiting for a covid test to come back so this was one way of getting the service uploaded. We discovered that pauses don’t work too well in this for so if you need longer to reflect after a reading please hit the pause button. We may use podcasting again and will give ‘how to signal a pause without using lots of silence so that people think you have fallen asleep’ some thought. God bless!
A Reflection on the Transfiguration for Valentine’s Day by Revd Vanessa Cole
Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is upon us.
It would be easy to think that Valentine was the founder of Hallmark (or vice versa) and that love is something which can only be expressed through excessive gifts and dates at luxurious restaurants and hotels. These may certainly be expressions of love (and if your love language is ‘gifts’ then well appreciated ones), but love is so much more.
The marriage service begins with a line about love: God is love and those who live in love live in God.
Love ‘lifts us up’ according to the ballads and love songs. Love is where we find ourselves, our ‘other halves’ (a cliché that particularly riles me), home, heaven… Love is kind, love is gentle, love bears no record of wrongs, according to St Paul’s Hymn to Love.
But today I want to think about how love transforms us. It has been said that every woman is beautiful on he wedding day. It is more than just the expensive dress and hours spent in the beauticians chair. The joy that emanates from a blushing bride as she basks in the love of her brand new husband, would outshine the most lavishly dressed beauty queen.
Love isn’t just for newly weds and love birds, or even for fortunate Valentines; the love that transforms, transcends the every day is a gift from God for each and every one of us.
In this week’s gospel passage Jesus himself is transformed by the Father’s love. In a prophecy-fulfilling moment Jesus takes his closest disciples up a mountain, a high mountain Mark tells us, and as they reach the top something unbelievable happens: so unbelievable that Peter, James and John are told not to mention the incident to any of the others when they re-join them.
At the top of this mountain something quite literally awesome happens to Jesus: his clothes become dazzlingly white as he is ‘transfigured’. The disciples’ spiritual heroes stand alongside Jesus, despite being long gone. Peter is flustered and says too much, the others are silenced. The man before them is no longer their friend, their teacher, their rabbi… the humanity seems to fall from Jesus as his deity quite literally shines through.
As wonder-ful as this moment is, there is more to come: the cloud of God’s presence comes over them all and God the Father speaks the most treasured words any of us can ever hope to hear: This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! MARK 9:7
Within each of us is a need to be loved. We can pretend that we are independent, that we don’t care, that we are happy being single, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t also need to be loved. At this time of year we can often confuse passion and lust with love, but as stirring as they can be they cannot replace the un-conditional love that God bestowed upon Jesus, and if we were only aware, has for us too.
The love that Father God bathed Jesus in on that mountainside quite clearly had a very physical impact upon him, but love goes deeper than the skin. When we come to God the Father and open our hearts to him, we too can bathe in that transformational love: Love that doesn’t seek anything in return, love that doesn’t have to be bought or earned, love that will not remove itself upon a whim. The love of God is love at its purest, its truest: love that sees us for who we are and who we can become with a little TLC.
If Valentines day is making you feel less than lovely, then these words are for you: This is my child, the Beloved.
Our clothes may not become dazzling white, and we have no deity to shine through. It is highly unlikely that any prophets will appear alongside us. That doesn’t mean that God can’t transform us though. Throughout the Bible we hear the stories of people who were thought of as not just unlovable, but untouchable. As Jesus came near them, their outer shells fell away as the love transformed them into children of God.
As children of God it is our inheritance to live in love, and to spread that love to others who are feeling unlovable. Jesus called his first disciples to love their neighbour, to love their enemies. This Valentines I hope and pray that you feel as beloved of God as did Jesus that moment on the mountainside, but also that you can share the love with those round you. Times are tough, many are feeling low and is if they are running on empty. Isolation and loneliness are the silent side effects of the pandemic, people need our love.
This Valentines we have a new challenge: to reclaim the gift of love from the market place and do whatever we can to bathe our neighbourhoods and communities with God’s abundant love
Here is the link to the service sheet. The reflection for Creation Sunday is below the video
service 7 2 21
Reflection for Creation Sunday Colossians 1 15-17
Today is Creation Sunday. As Christians we believe that God pushed the start button of Creation. How this all happens is the work of the scientist but with the core belief that Creation is God’s work and as such is precious, is key for Christians. It should affect how we behave.
The great hymn of praise to Jesus at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us that God is in all and that Jesus is God.
Christ is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers
– all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians1.15-17
We hear the same themes of Creation and Jesus as God in our gospel reading
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. John 1 1-3
This week we have seen a few spring days as January left the building and February gave us hints of the spring to come. On my walks around the parish there have been the natural sculptures of bare branches against the blue sky and the first spring flowers in the gardens. Creation in beautiful and it has been easy to worship the Creator God outside. It won’t be long before the warm weather is here and lockdown begins to be lifted and we can return to life as it was. But should we?
I was at a theology lecture this week where the question was asked ‘what do we want to keep from our lockdown experience and what do we want to lose?’ That is a big question. It applies to national life, church life and our individual lives so there is lots to think about and it will take time. What I took away from that evening was the need to pause, to consider and to reflect on the experience of lockdown, how we got here and only then, look to the future. The temptation will be to try and recreate the old normal and pretend that the last twelve months didn’t happen. This was what happened a hundred years ago when the Spanish flu pandemic was forgotten as people raced into the roaring twenties.
If creation is not chance but the work and intent of the divine then perhaps we need to treat it as something to be wondered and worked with rather than used and abused. Perhaps on this Creation Sunday we need to remember that this world is God’s Creation and not ours. Our role is as good stewards of that creation. As stewards of Creation how do we prevent another pandemic? What conditions of animal husbandry led to crossover of the virus from animal to human and how might that be changed? How might we in our individual and local lives work with the natural world around us, rather than using it and letting others deal with the damage?
These are big questions and what we might do that is work in progress, but pausing to wonder at the beauty of Creation and worshipping the one who made in – Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a good place to start our journey out of lockdown. Let’s press the pause button.
We act because we worship, not worship after acting.