Author: Janneke Blokland

The rules have changed

A reflection for the Tuesday of Holy Week
Luke 22.24-53

In countries across Europe exam boards have decided to cancel all school exams. In England this means that pupils will get teacher-assessed grades this year. There has been much controversy over the decision to cancel the exams, rather than postponing them, and the debate on how precisely teacher should assess their pupils is still on-going.

No more exams? | The New Times | Rwanda

Some have mentioned that cancelling the exam was unfair: you cannot change the rules of a game this late on, so the argument goes. Pupils have a right to exam-assessed grades, as this is the goal to which they had worked. This comment made me think. Of course, it is not fair to change the goal posts at this late a stage. Most of us will remember the indignant feeling as children when our peers did exactly that: changing the rules of the game we were playing. However, we also have to admit that some situations require the rules to change, and we find ourselves in one of those situations.

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Significance

A reflection for the Monday of Holy Week
Luke 22.1-23

I have to admit that yesterday’s speech from the Queen made me cry. Indeed, particularly when she referred to her first radio broadcast together with her sister in 1940. However, being honest, the words ‘The Queen’ on the screen and the camera shot of Windsor Castle were enough to set me off. Talking to a couple of friends afterwards, I was not the only one.

BBC - The first Queen's speech ever broadcast was in WindsorWhy does a speech like the one on Sunday has the capacity to move people so profoundly? I would like to suggest that it is because it reminds us that we matter; that we are part of a story with cosmic significance and each have a part to play. That story is the story of humanity, the story of God with us.

The story transcends our time and space: it is not just a cultural phenomenon which can be explained entirely sociologically – although others may disagree. To illustrate: notwithstanding my great respect for Queen Elizabeth and having sworn an Oath of Allegiance to her, she has not been my Queen from young age, as I grew up in The Netherlands. So we see, at least for me it is not the language of nationhood, a belonging to the Commonwealth, that matters, but something greater.

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Rolling up our sleeves

A reflection for Palm Sunday 2020

Possibly the most important thing I have done in my life, I did on a Palm Sunday. I was on my way to church, particularly looking forward to receiving a fresh green palm branch, sprinkled with the water of Baptism. As I cycled the short distance from home to church, I passed a friend, also member of our congregation, who was talking to a young woman.

Alternatives to palm branches for Palm Sunday

Something made me turn around, and ask if they were ok. The young woman had fallen of her bike and my friend, who was training as a medic at the time as well as being church warden, said it would be better for her to be checked out at the hospital. I offered to pick up my car and drive her, and that is what happened. She wasn’t badly injured, and it took a little persuasion to tell her not to go home. After having dropped her of at A&E, I went back to church, just in time for the last hymn – and the coffee!

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Preparations

A reflection on the Eve of Palm Sunday 2020

As I am writing this, it is the Saturday before Palm Sunday. This year, Holy Week will be very different from the previous times we have prepared for our Easter celebrations. Our experience this year will bring us closer to the experience of the first followers of Jesus: they too saw a crisis unfolding in front of them, without knowing where it would lead them. I suspect that this is the first time that we really share in their uncertainty, rather than knowing the outcome of the story already.

One of the questions I asked myself today was what the disciples were doing on the day before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? What were they doing to prepare for the unknown as they travelled towards the city?

Palm Sunday in art--Aleteia

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The Question that has an answer

Sermon 29th March 2020  Fifth Sunday of Lent: John 11.1-45

It is hard to believe, but in two weeks’ time it is Easter Sunday. That means that today, liturgically, Passiontide begins. As someone put it, we move from the desert to the Cross. The reading we hear this morning, the raising of Lazarus, has also been called the Easter story in miniature. The more closely one looks, the more parallels can there be drawn between the overarching Gospel narrative and these verses in John’s Gospel.

This morning, I would like to have a look at some of those parallels, particularly those that resonate with the situation in which we find ourselves today. Those of you who know me a little bit, may find it surprising that I am quoting the British Prime Minister, but he was right when he bluntly said ‘It will get worse, before it gets better’.

raising of lazarus

That it will get worse, before it gets better is precisely what we see in the Easter story too. During Lent, during this Passiontide, the closer we come to Easter, the closer we also come to Good Friday: there is no escape.

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Share your loo roll!

Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, Sunday 15th March 2020
Third Sunday of Lent: Romans 5.1-11 & John 4.5-42

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus speaks about the living water and the food to eat of which the disciples do not know. The language is typical for John’s Gospel, with a focus on the spiritual elements of our faith. As we gather here this morning in the midst of the Corona virus crisis, I wonder what those words mean to us? In the last few days, I suspect our focus has been very much on our ‘physical’ needs, so to say: how do we stay safe and how do we make sure that we have enough to eat and to drink if we don’t have access to food as we may be used to?

Image result for coronavirus prayerThe challenge that Jesus puts before us as he speaks to the Samaritan woman is timely for us: those who drink of the water that I will give you, will never be thirsty again. Surely, this is going too far; surely now our focus should be on ourselves and our own safety? Or do we dare to be challenged and think what it may look like for us to leave our water-jars at the well to go and tell people about the living water? So this morning, I would like to think a little bit about how we can have a genuinely Christian response to our crisis. It comes with a disclaimer: it is no official health advice, but rather food for thought in these challenging times.

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Trust in the Lord

Sermon St George’s Preshute on the Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 12.1-4a and John 3.1-17

Our readings this morning invite us to think about what we trust and believe. And it is not just an academic exercise to make us reflect on our beliefs, but a challenge how we act upon those beliefs, how we let the light of God’s promise illuminate the unknown that lies ahead of us. Let us start by looking at the person of Abraham, or Abram as he is still called at this point. In some ways he is the founder of our religion as well as Judaism and Islam. At the age of 75, God tells Abraham to leave his county and go to the land that He himself will show him. Abraham goes, just as God has told him.

Image result for nicodemus

Abraham believed in God’s promise, and for him that is enough to take his wife and other relatives, all his belongings and to go to a yet unknown land. God’s promise alone is enough for Abraham to go. Not many of us will question that this is a courageous thing to do, and I wonder how we would feel if God asked us at the age of 75 to go to a different country, away from home with only the assurance of God’s blessing.

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When things get tough

Address Marlborough College Chapel on the Second Sunday of Lent

This morning, I would like to think about  the question: ‘What do we do when things get difficult?’ Where do we go, and how do we manage? That is a pretty important question for all of us, as for each of us there will be times when life is not as easy as we had hoped. It may be a disappointing mock result, or indeed exam result. It may be that you didn’t get your university offer, or you weren’t selected for the first team. Or it may be that someone close to you is ill and there is nothing you can do about it.

I am currently reading a wonderful book called ‘The Book of Joy’. It is a series of conversations between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, which were held in 2015 on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. It is a book full of wisdom and indeed of joy.

Image result for dalai lama and desmond tutu

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Step by step

Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7 & Matthew 4.1-11

Lent is the season of forty days in which Christians, as individuals and as a Church prepare to celebrate the Easter feast. I wonder what your pattern of preparing for Easter is? Is Lent for you a time to give something up, or to take something on? Or do you feel there is not much in your life, spiritual or otherwise, that needs changing?

stepsOr are you maybe a little bit like myself? When I start thinking about what I should or would like to change about my life, I easily get overwhelmed. There seems to be so much that I could and should do better, that I don’t even know where to start. Therefore, also this year I have fallen back to my default resolutions: giving up alcohol, praying more and spending more time with God.

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Creation: care or dominion?

Sermon 16th February 2020, Worcester College Oxford
2nd Sunday before Lent: Genesis 1.1 – 2.3 & Matthew 6.25-34

Our readings tonight invite us to think about the relationship between Creator and creation, the place of the human person within this relationship, and therefore also our attitude towards creation. Particularly in a weekend in which the UK is battered by another storm, of course climate change comes to mind, so this may be a good moment to reflect on the way in which we live in this world. Although I believe that we urgently need to change our behaviour and that Christians should be at the forefront of this change, I also believe that it is not too late, and so our message can be a message of hope, rather than one of desperation.

creation

Within Christianity, there has been a wide range of different approaches to the way in which we treat the world in which we live. Each of them is the result of a particular theological and cultural understanding of the relationship between God and His creation. Through progress in the sciences, our understanding of the world has deepened and widened, as well as our understanding of the place of the human person within the world. These scientific insights have impacted also on the question how we should treat our surroundings.

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