- keeping in touch
Wednesday 8th April 2020
Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’ (John 13:31-33).
This is a particularly confusing time for Jesus’ friends. They have been following him for years, listening to him, watching him, living with him. They believe in him; they have put their trust in him. When others find Jesus too challenging and leave, Peter speaks for the twelve when he says: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ John 6:68). Later he goes even further, declaring ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16).
With Palm Sunday they think they know what Jesus is up to, where everything is headed. Jesus has made a great and unequivocal statement of his kingship. In first-century Palestine expectations were of a Messiah who would be a political revolutionary. They are looking for a king who will come in and release the nation from Roman domination. Indeed the demand for the release of Barabbas, a political zealot, on Friday instead of Jesus shows they want a political saviour (Matthew 27:15–23).
Yet it seems that the disciples are mistaken once again. Indeed, they are forever getting it wrong or missing the point. This is one of the recurring themes of the gospels.
It is easy for us, from our perspective. We know what is going to happen. Would we have done any better, though, knowing what they knew? It is only after the resurrection that the penny finally drops and, as we said last week, it is the resurrection that makes the point.
For one of them it’s too much, as Judas betrays Jesus to the Sanhedrin. There are many theories as to why he does this. Could it be that he thinks that Jesus needs just that little extra nudge to proclaim himself as king and lead the uprising?
As for Jesus’ other friends, they find that when the chips are down their courage fails them. When he is arrested ‘all the disciples deserted him and fled’ (Matthew 26:56); Peter denies him; and only ‘the beloved disciple’ is present at the crucifixion (John 19:26).
Throughout it all, though, what matters is that despite their failings and weaknesses they remain Jesus’ friends. They are the ones he will, in due time, call to be the Church, his people - to live for him, to proclaim him and serve him in the world.
Today we are Jesus’ friends, called out to be his. Like those first disciples we too are often confused, especially perhaps now - unsure of our way, inclined to get it wrong or simply uncertain about what he is doing or what he wants of us. What matters is that we hold fast to him, listen to his word, and wait on him.
The prayer after communion for this week:
Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant,
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation:
give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all politicians and their advisors - for integrity, for wisdom and a willingness to put the good of all before personal desire or ambition. We pray particularly for the Prime Minister and all those who are ill or in isolation at this time.
Tuesday 7th April 2020
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you” (Isaiah 49:7).
Following his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus faces the combined religious and political leadership ranged against him, given encouragement by the whipped-up fickleness of the crowd. These authorities have an important role in Jerusalem, of course, ensuring that Temple worship continues efficiently and everything works smoothly. However they fail to see the bigger picture. They are too busy dealing with what they see as an immediate threat to understand that there are greater issues here.
‘When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ (Matthew 21:23). The authorities are jealous of the risk Jesus poses to their power and influence and are concerned about how his actions might be seen by the Romans. There is a delicate balancing act here that they know can be upset all too easily at any moment with terrible consequences.
‘Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard; (Luke 19:47-48). They are searching for an opportunity and one will soon present itself.
At the same time, Jesus is also preparing himself for what is to come. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28). The pieces are falling into place as God’s great act of salvation moves to a head.
We continue to remember those most in need of our prayers at this difficult time. Rev Ron Hart has passed on this message he received last week from Bishop Bernard in Torit, South Sudan (Salisbury Diocese is linked with the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan):
Dear brother Rev Canon John Wood.
I hope all of you are fine as the worries of the Corona Virus spread around.
WE are fine but are living in fear of the spread of the virus from Uganda to South Sudan.
We have no medical facilities here and only rely on God. Borders are closed and our only source of food is Uganda. Cost of Food items have risen to the extent that only God can save us should the situation continue for another one month
Pray for us as we also pray for you.
A Prayer for Sudan (a copy of this prayer is kept in every church in the Diocese):
God our Father, whose son Jesus Christ wept over your people who knew not the way of peace, and were as sheep without a shepherd, hear our prayer for the people of the Sudan.
Turn the hearts of their leaders to reconciliation and peace.
Bless their Archbishop and clergy, that they may be true shepherds of your flock.
Strengthen those who heal the wounded and feed the hungry.
Hasten the time when all nations will own your just and gentle rule and receive your gift of peace
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all those who are ill and their families, together with the bereaved. They are very much on our hearts and minds at this time, and we lift them up before God.
Monday 6th April 2020
‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations’ (Isaiah 42:1)
This is Holy Week. As we walk with Jesus on the path to Calvary over these days, so we reflect on all that is happening; what has brought Jesus here to this point; and the actions and motives of those around him who are caught up in this story. We can also bring ourselves before Jesus asking for renewed guidance and a deepening of faith. I’m sure we can all identify with the man in the gospels who cried ‘‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).
Let us start today with the people of Jerusalem. Yesterday they welcomed Jesus joyfully. What were they looking for - excitement? something new and different? a charismatic leader? a simple answer to the problems of their world? We can infer but do not know. What is clear is that by the end of the week they have lost faith in Jesus. He has failed to live up to their expectations and has gone from hero to villain overnight.
For now all the excitement of yesterday is past. It is the time to move on from promises to action. What is Jesus going to do? How is he going to capitalise on the fervour he has whipped up? Apparently he is doing nothing except sit in the Temple and teach. The crowd soon loses patience and turns against him.
We need to ask ourselves: are we looking for Jesus to lead us where we want to go, or are we truly open to being led where he wants to take us? This week is a good time for us to read the Bible and engage with it. We have not only the story of the Passion in the four gospels, but the epistles that refer back to it, and the Old Testament prophecies that prefigure it.
For the first time for most of us, we will be observing Holy Week at home. Perhaps this is an opportunity to look beyond the ‘doing’ of Holy Week to its deeper meaning; to immerse ourselves in it through prayer and reading and waiting on God. As the Queen said last night, we ‘are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation’.
Alongside that, these days are bringing with them a renewed appreciation of the world around us, as we take our daily exercise and spend more time in our gardens – those of us who have them. Over the weekend I dug my bean trenches. It is one of those jobs you want to get done, but not necessarily to do. The fresh air and exercise was good of course, but so was the chance to be part of the rhythm of a nature quite unperturbed by our concerns and worries.
The alternative collect prayer for this week:
True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray our Bellringers. They are accustomed to ringing out in moments of celebration and solemn remembrance. We look forward to the time when their peals across the village can gladden our hearts again.
Sunday 5th April 2020 - Palm Sunday
The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Matthew 21:9)
Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. ‘They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!’ (John 12:13). Whatever may happen in the days to come, here the crowds proclaim an important truth. Jesus is indeed King and Son of David. ‘Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Revelation 1:5).
So he enters the city, dismissing the concerns of the authorities and heading straight for the Temple. ‘Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers’ (Matthew 21:12-13).
We can imagine the scene. The crowd is going wild, greeting Jesus as their king and liberator. There’s a party atmosphere; the air is filled with excitement and expectation. The revolution has begun; freedom from the Romans is in their grasp; he is going to fulfil all their dreams. What a strange paradox: the King is coming, the people rejoice, singing ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ Yet they fail to understand that this King whom they welcome is the Servant King; the King who washes his disciples’ feet; the King who comes not with an army but a weapon so powerful that not even death can resist, the sacrificial love of God laid out upon a Cross.
What about us? What do we expect of Jesus; what do we want from him; what do we want him to do? Is it what he has come to offer and to give? Do we need to raise our eyes and expectations to the greater glory he brings? For ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8).
There is a service for today on our website. It is in three parts: the first part leads up to the Passion Gospel. As this is extremely long I have recorded it separately, or you may prefer to read it by yourself (Matthew 26:14 – 27:end). Finally there is the concluding part of the service. Also the website has a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in.
The collect for Palm Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God
who in your tender love towards the human race
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
I remind you that there are also virtual services streamed each Sunday on the Church of England website.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our witness to the faith. We are the people of God, called to live for him and proclaim him in our lives: ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’. We ask God’s grace to be and do that ever more effectively.
Saturday 4th April 2020
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ (John 11:55-56).
It is the run-up to the Passover in Jerusalem. Everyone is excited, hoping Jesus will turn up and no doubt relishing the chance for a bit of excitement. The trouble is they can’t see him anywhere. That’s because he is at Bethany, moving at his own pace, to be ready at the right time. Sometimes we talk about not finding God or that he’s not there for us. Yet God is always there ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1), but he won’t adhere to our agenda or timetable. He moves in his own way, telling us ‘Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honour them’ (Psalm 91:14-15).
In much the same way, we can talk of God not answering prayer. The truth is that he is always there; he always answers our prayers, showing us the way. Perhaps the problem can be that we are not ready to hear him; he is not giving us the answer we would like. We have to learn to listen and to accept that he will act in the right way and at the right time. ‘But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer’ (Psalm 38:15).
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, when Jesus does finally appear in Jerusalem in a very clear and dramatic way. This marks the beginning of Holy Week. There are a number of resources available to help us observe this week. The Church of England website has services of Daily Prayer. Here at St Laurence we will put more pieces on our website over the next few days.
Palm Sunday is a day when normally we would gather together in celebration and worship. Tomorrow we will be doing this as a Church from our own homes. In preparation here are details of how to make a palm cross at home. There will also be a Palm Sunday service with a service sheet you can download. I will record the Passion Gospel separately as it is extremely long.
Especially on a day such as Palm Sunday we miss gathering together for the Eucharist. I share this prayer, which comes from the Oxford Movement Centenary Prayer Book (Church Literature Association, 1933) courtesy of the Church Times:
O Lord Jesus Christ, since I cannot now
receive Thee sacramentally, I humbly pray
Thee that Thou wouldest come spiritually to my soul.
Come, Lord Jesus, come and cleanse me,
heal me, strengthen me, and unite me to
Thyself, now and for evermore. Amen.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today I ask you to pray for myself as Team Rector and my family. I greatly appreciate your prayers at this time. Thank you.
Friday 3rd April 2020
‘Here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God’ (Hebrews 13:14-16).
The most fundamental aspect of Jesus’s ministry is that it only makes full sense in the context of resurrection hope. Everything flows from that. At this time, more than ever, it is crucial to get our theology the right way around. “Resurrection life” is not an edifying spiritual metaphor for the way Christians should live in the “here and now”. Christian life in the “here and now” is a Spirit-filled anticipation of a Kingdom yet to come.
As we approach Holy Week and the story of Jesus’ Passion, we can face the darkness because we know the far greater light that lies beyond. We can walk the way of the Cross with him because of the hope we have. We know ‘for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings’ (Malachi 4:2). The hope of resurrection beckons as we hold fast to our faith and our God. ‘The promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 18:30). As St Peter tells us, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7).
So ‘let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:1-2).
My diary tells me that today in St Laurence we should be holding an end of term service for the school. Like the Church the school is a community. Although it has been scattered physically over these past two weeks, it is kept together through the wonder of modern communications. We continue to pray for their safety and growth.
Let me share with you something from the Bible reading notes I follow: ‘Learning more about God, about ourselves, about the depth of love and forgiveness of which we are capable, is most acutely open to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, whose true character.. is the cosmic Christ in whom we place our faith and trust’ (Church of England Reflections for Daily Prayer, Wednesday 01 April 2020).
God of Promise and God of Hope,
who through your great mercy
have granted us new birth
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
we praise your wonderful name!
God of Glory and God of Might
who through your great power
have granted us new strength
to endure all things through faith in Christ our risen King,
we praise your wonderful name!
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Churchwarden and Deputy Churchwardens. They have an important role in ensuring the Church works well and are a great support to me as Team Rector.
Bishop Nicholas tells us: ‘You might already have discovered that Salisbury Cathedral are posting 10 minute reflections every day at 5.00pm… The cathedral is preparing worship to go online for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday’.
Thursday 2nd April 2020
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58).
Jesus is making an extraordinary claim here. He is claiming divinity. ‘I am’ is the name God calls himself when talking with Moses. ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you”’ (Exodus 3:14). Is it any wonder that those around him felt challenged? It can be challenging for us sometimes to realise that this man of whom we read in the gospels is none other than God himself. It is also a great source of strength and comfort – especially at this time – to know that God became one of us and even died for us. ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:4).
As we approach the time of Jesus’ Passion, this is a reminder of just who he is and what is at stake. In the words of that iconic Christmas 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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1:1-5). It goes on to say: ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God’ (John 1:12).
‘I am the light of the world,’ says Jesus. ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12). We are called to be this light in a dark and uncertain world: ‘‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14).
In the words of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, we look ‘to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2).
The prayer for Advent Sunday:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for family life - especially for children at home, distance learning. I have met some of them in my walks around the village and they appear to be doing well and relishing the novelty of it all. I enjoy my daily walks and the conversations I have. Yesterday on my way back along The Borough, I stopped to buy food in the Co-Op. There was no queue and not many shoppers. Is this a sign that at least the panic buying is past? I hope and pray so.
In preparation for Sunday, we have a link to some instructions for making your own palm cross at home. In place of a palm leaf, you can do this using either a long strip of paper (2 strips of A4 stuck together works well) or a perhaps long leaf from the garden. There is also a video of me making one. Arts and crafts were never my strong point, so if I can do it anyone can! My apologies for the dark glasses, sunny days do that to them.