A reflection on the interplay between the natural and the sacred, originally written for Marlborough’s Tower and Town May edition
‘Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty’ – John 4.10
In the human quest to find extra-terrestrial life – life outside the earth –, the search for water has been crucial. NASA’s motto in the pursuit of extra-terrestrial life has been “follow the water”. Why? Because, as far as we know, liquid water is essential to all life on earth, and therefore we assume it may well be essential to life outside our planet as well.
Given the fact that we cannot live without water, it is no surprise that in most world religions, including Christianity, water has a major role to play. It can be a threat: both gods and creatures have been thought to hide in seas and lakes, representing the dangers that people experience on sea. The power of gods and God has been shown in having power over water, such as the parting of the Red Sea and Jesus calming the storm.
The previous reflections for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have focussed very much on who we are in relationship, who we are as members of a group, of a collective. It is very much the pattern of Holy Week, when the crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem; when the disciples have their last meal with Jesus and when people gather around the Cross.
However, the encounter on Easter morning, at least in John’s version, is very much an individual encounter between Mary and Jesus. Early in the morning, while it was still dark – we hear – Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. Maybe she has taken the remainder of her costly oil to anoint the body of Jesus after his death. However, when she comes to the tomb, she finds it empty. Mary runs to the disciples; Peter and presumably John run to the tomb and they see it empty as well. They see and believe.
Only a very short reflection and a poem today, this day of silence between Good Friday and Easter Day.
When I went out for a walk on the downs this morning in the glorious sunshine, there was one thing I really wanted to do: I wanted to say ‘thank you’. For what precisely, I didn’t know; to whom precisely, I didn’t know either. The closest I may get in articulating it, is wanting to say thank you for the gift of life, to say thank you to the God who created and redeemed me. And that is what I look forward to celebrating once more tomorrow.
The following poem by E.E. Cummings puts this sense of gratitude into words:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
May we place at his feet all that we have and all that we are Good Friday 19th April 2019
Could we have done anything to stop it? I wonder if this was a question on the minds of those who stood and watched the Crucifixion? Did Peter ask himself ‘What if I had not betrayed him?’ Did Mary feel not only the pain only parents can feel when losing a child, but also doubts and guilt? And the by-standers, who had shouted ‘Crucify him!’, did they regret their outspokenness? Maybe there was a little comfort in what Jesus had told them already: that he had to suffer and die, but even then: was it not for us, because of us that this was the sacrifice he made?
Eternal God, in the cross of Jesus we see the cost of sin and the depth of your love: in humble hope and fear may we place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I wonder also what we feel when we stand at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. Could we have done anything to stop it? Do we feel complicit in Jesus’ death, in some way responsible?
So I did sit and eat. A reflection for Maundy Thursday
Sharing a significant experience can turn strangers almost instantly into, what feels like, intimate friends. Many of us will have had such an experience in some way or other. A very trivial example, but imagine yourself in a train carriage that is stopped and searched. You may not quite know the reason, but it’s an unsettling experience. Almost certainly, the passengers in the carriage will start talking to each other in a way they wouldn’t have done if the train had kept moving. Suddenly there seems to be something in common that wasn’t there before.
Or think of wedding receptions and funeral wakes, where often you find yourself sharing your thoughts with people who were strangers to you the day before. And then there are the events that for some of us have shaped our lives: a tragic accident or the painful experience of losing a loved one. They often bring people closer together. However, as we all know too well too, these experiences can also drive people apart. Good friendships or relationships may be formed, but also be lost, in the wake of trauma.
A reflection about the importance of good foundations, both spiritually and practically.
The short passage from Matthew’s Gospel below is set at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus addresses the gathered crowds. It is full of teachings, parables and admonitions explaining to the people what it means to lead a godly life. So please forgive me if I take it slightly out of context, and try to apply it probably more generally than it was meant originally.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
For some of us, Lent seems to have turned into an opportunity to prove ourselves. Consciously or not, we can find ourselves competing against others – how many food groups can you give up? Or, maybe more commonly, we realise that we are competing against ourselves – how much time can I spend praying, reading and studying? How much good can I do in one day?
However, of course, this is precisely what Lent is not about. It is not a 40-day competition with a reward at the end, but, I would like to suggest, it is a journey towards our beginning. A journey in which we have the opportunity to realise that we already have what we are looking for: God’s love. Continue reading “A Journey towards the Beginning”→