St Michael & All Angels

Sharing God's Love

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Palm Sunday
Gospel reading – Matthew 21, 1–11

Reflection by Sarah Emanuel

After many weeks of Lent, representing Jesus’ isolation and retreat in the wilderness before he begins his ministry, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey towards the end of his mission on earth, strikes a cautiously hopeful note.

Cautious, because although the crowds gather to welcome him and shout Hosanna, waving their palm leaves, they will turn against him, and he will be jeered at, tortured, and suffer a humiliating death and defeat on the cross.

Hopeful, because we see Jesus identifying himself as the Messiah, stepping forward voluntarily to his destination in humility, peace, obedience and love, when he will ultimately be recognised by the centurion keeping watch at the cross: “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week, triumph quickly followed by defeat for Jesus and his disciples. We know this dark time is coming, and he knew it too. Nevertheless God brings light from this darkness and hope from despair, overcoming death and defeat with everlasting life and hope.

May the God of mercy, compassion, and love be with us all in our dark times, bringing transformation and hope to us, so that we may emerge from this anxious period of isolation, sickness and crisis renewed and re-centred on the peace and love of God and love of one another in Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Palm Sunday entry

 

 




Monday in Holy Week

Gospel reading – John 12, 1-11

Reflection by Amanda Abbitt

Our Gospel reading today takes us to a joyous occasion – Jesus having a meal with his friends, including Lazarus who he had raised from the dead. Can you imagine the atmosphere? The happy laughter, excellent food, the company of good friends.

Mary then takes the most costly perfume and anoints Jesus. It is the most extravagant gesture she can think of, to show Jesus just how much he means to her, how much his teaching has turned her life around.

This intimate yet expansive gesture should have been greeted with joy. Instead, enter Judas, objecting that the perfume should instead have been sold to aid the poor. He’s missed the point – this is preparation for Jesus’ burial, and our first reminder this week of where Holy Week will lead.

I was reminded of this ‘missing the point’, reading this morning of someone on social media, who had done something lovely – only to have some people join in with mean comments. It is sad that there is always someone who needs to tear down, instead of build up. We cannot always know the motivation of others, nor should we judge on the basis of partial knowledge. Jesus understood Mary’s gesture at the deepest of levels. It was about love, pure and simple.

So my question for this Monday of Holy Week is - what does love look like, in a time of ‘lock down’?

Anointing

Tuesday in Holy Week 

Gospel Reading – John 12, 20-36

Reflection by Rev'd Stephen  Hardy

If we were not confined to our home at this time, one of the things that we enjoy doing is visiting National Trust properties. Obviously, the coffee and cakes are a great attraction, but I enjoy Mediaeval and Tudor architecture, and also particularly appreciate seeing old tapestries adorning the walls of these ancient buildings.

The thing about tapestries is that when you look at the back, they often appear to be quite a mess, with threads all over the place, loose ends, and places where mistakes have been skilfully adjusted so that the front side still looks good.

It strikes me that life with God is often a bit like that. We would like to see a lovely picture with everything neat and tidy, but we forget that behind it all there can be quite messy stuff going on.

Some Greeks turn up in Jerusalem and ask to see Jesus. They obviously hope that after a private audience, all will be revealed. But what they get is Jesus talking about the great tension and complexity that is Holy Week. Even Jesus himself has not got this all worked out, and is tempted to pray that the whole messy business of bringing salvation to the world can be taken from him. And we will come back to that tension in the Garden of Gethsemane.

As we face our own world crisis at this time, we would probably like to see a bigger and better picture, but for the present we cannot. All we see is a bit of a mess with lots of loose ends. But we do get at least some glimpse of that better picture, as we see various signs of love, care and self-sacrifice within our communities – communities that were previously somewhat self-centred and pleasure-seeking.

On Good Friday, in a few days’ time, we will see the greatest ever example of love and self-sacrifice, and then on Easter Sunday our thoughts will explode with rejoicing that Christ has risen, that sin and death have been defeated, and that new hope has been brought into the world. 


Tapestry


Wednesday in Holy Week 

Gospel Reading – John 13, 21-32

Reflection by Tim Kneller

Judas, the very name has for centuries been synonymous with betrayal and, indeed, the accusation of being a Judas means a betrayer. But what do we know of the man who betrayed Jesus?

Judas was one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus, and we know that, as keeper of the purse, he was a trusted member of the closest group around Jesus. He was also close to Jesus at the last supper, close enough for Jesus to give him the bread he had dipped in the dish. Until this point the only references in the gospels to Judas Iscariot, to give him his full name, are to the fact that he was to betray Jesus, but these references could easily have been made with the benefit of hindsight; knowing Judas’ role in Jesus’ arrest. According to John, “as soon as Judas took the bread the devil entered him,” so we could be left wondering whether it was only at this point Judas became the character he has been portrayed as over the last two millennia. It’s very easy to think of Judas as the villain of the piece. However, it is clear from his later actions that he didn’t fully realise the implications of what he was doing. 

Last Sunday I played the part of Judas at the reading of the Passion according to Matthew. Whilst reflecting on that I could easily see that there have been times when I have betrayed friends and members of my family, sometimes unwittingly and often without fully appreciating the consequences of my actions. Similarly, there are times when I too have betrayed Jesus over the years.

Peter also betrayed Jesus, albeit with lesser consequences and we know that Jesus forgave him as he forgives all who sin. Perhaps it’s time that we reconsidered our attitude to Judas as, after all, his actions lead not only to the darkness of the cross, but the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ which we will celebrate next Sunday.

 

Judas

Maundy Thursday

Gospel Reading – John 13, 1–17 & 31b–35

Reflection by Rev’d Lesley Hardy

So today, we read about Jesus and his disciples gathering to celebrate the Passover meal together, as every Jewish family would on that day. But in this gospel reading we don’t get given details of the meal shared, as in the other gospels. Instead we get this incredible picture ... Jesus who is Lord of all creation, the one whose hands flung stars into space and called the world into being - bending down to wash the feet of his friends. Not angelic friends with halos, but ordinary people like you and me. Over the years they have been with Jesus they have squabbled with each other, argued about who was the best, struggled to understand or believe what he was saying, and on this night, they may well have had a feeling of impending doom. And in the middle of this muddle of emotion and humanity, here is Jesus, washing their feet in an act of love and service. A preliminary to the supreme act of love that was to come as he died on the cross.

This really puts paid to the idea that we have to somehow deserve God’s love. The truth is, none of us deserve it, and yet we all have it. Just as he loved that random mismatched group of disciples, so he loves us, deeply and intimately. He knew those disciples inside out, and yet he kneels down and washes their feet, because their feet were tired and dirty, and he cared about that.

I expect most of us have a mixed bundle of emotions at the moment, in these strange days. But what remains true is that because of his death and resurrection, Jesus is with us always - with you and with me. However undeserving we feel. However tired and scared we might be. Maybe tonight we can take some moments of quiet to allow ourselves to be conscious of the presence of Jesus with us, loving us.

Thursday feet


Good Friday

Today’s we have three short readings that tell the story of this momentous day, each followed by short reflections written by Rev'ds Stephen and Lesley Hardy.

Reading 1
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ …

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Reflection 1 – ‘Are you not one of them?
Those of us who are on social media apps like Facebook will surely have noticed that it is fairly easy to pass comment on people or events when we are in the virtual company of others who think the same way. Apart from those few Trolls who like to always pass negative and even hurtful comments, most of us find that our main contribution is clicking the ‘Like’ button or adding some comment showing our approval. It’s not so easy disagreeing with someone, or saying that we feel that something is actually incorrect, unkind, or is fake news.

It’s the same when we are in the actual company of others – if we can remember back to those halcyon days of meeting together. Much easier to keep a low profile and not to stand out from the crowd. Peter felt this pressure. One thing to promise to stand up for Jesus when in the company of the other disciples, but a very different thing when those around are hostile. Easier to hide behind an excuse or a lie.

As a vicar, much of my time has been in the company of believers, so very easy to speak up for Jesus, for Christian values, and for all that is good and true – indeed that is expected of someone wearing a dog collar. But now that I am retired, rarely in ‘uniform’, there is inevitably a temptation just to keep quiet and not speak out in the same way.

So how about you? Do you find it easy to speak about your faith, and to stand up for Jesus, or is it easier to just keep quiet?

Peter denies

Reading 2
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Reflection 2 – ‘Behold your King'
In this part of the Passion narrative, as we find the crowds shouting ‘Crucify him’, we are in a similar situation to Peter in our first reflection. Clearly emotions have been whipped up, and soon the feelings are running high against Jesus. For anyone who had doubts, or who disagreed, the safest thing was to keep quiet or appear to go along with the majority view.

We see that in society today. The majority view appears to be against having faith. Christians and churches are regularly criticised in the press. Clergy are regarded as figures of fun, or even as being ‘unsafe’. Jesus is presumed to be a fictitious character, and heaven an imaginary place. And because that appears to be a majority view, folk just go along with it for a quiet life.

But probe under the surface, and you find that even if they do not regularly attend church, there are an awful lot of people who do believe in God, who regularly resort to prayer, and who have a strong hope that there is some sort of life after this one. And during the last few years we have seen an increasing realisation that there is more to life than just being consumers, enjoying life to the full, and allowing the world to slowly fall apart. The current pandemic is focussing people’s thoughts on these issues, and leading many to accept that there is more to life than we assumed, and perhaps we should be accepting Jesus as our king, and following his way in life.

Behold your king

Reading 3
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Reflection 3 – ‘Behold you mother’
The words spoken just before someone dies often express what’s deep in their hearts. And here we have a tender little scene right in the middle of the most unimaginable horror. Jesus is suffering the worst a fallen world and broken humanity can do to him, and we see his heart opened to us. While he is being tortured to death, his concern is for his mother. And what does he do? He gives her hope, and invites her into a community.

Hope... At a time when Mary would be feeling as if her world had ended, Jesus gives her hope - there is a future - even if it’s not what she thought it would be, it’s a future where she will be loved and be able to love.

Community...We shouldn’t really be surprised by this - creating community has always been God’s big plan. From Adam and Eve, through Abraham and his descendants, right up to the 12 disciples. Because being in community is the way we thrive and flourish. And how clear that has been over the last weeks - forced to isolate, we have been busy deepening our family lives, creating our on line communities, and reaching out to those we fear may miss out and be lonely. But there is something even deeper about the community Jesus is calling into being.... it’s a community of love, based on the words of Jesus at the last supper - Love one another as I have loved you. Love is the heart of Jesus and love is the heart of the community he creates. 

If ever we are tempted to doubt his love, just go back to this picture of him struggling for breath, in the most terrible pain, and speaking words of love and hope to his mother Mary and his friend John. And remember, he offers us all hope, and calls us all into his new community, to love as he loves. Love is the heart of Jesus.

Behold your son

And so we are reminded on this most holy of days, that on the cross Jesus carried all our sin, all our sorrows, and all our burdens, and the way of life is open to us.

Crucifixion4

Holy Saturday

 

Gospel readingMatthew 27:57-66

 

Reflection by Naomi Lumutenga

 

Holy Saturday is probably the least eventful day of the Holy week, ‘..the day after Preparation Day (v.62) – even the Bible seems to have no specific name for it! Suddenly, the chief priests (who referred to Jesus as ‘..that deceiver..’) remembered that while he lived, Jesus had said, ‘After three days I will rise’. Panic! What if …. his disciples steal the body and claim that he has been raised from the dead?!

On their request Pilate ordered that the tomb be made as secure as can be, a seal was put on the stone, with a guard of Roman soldiers (presumably, in full Roman armour).

Guarding the tomb was the most significant activity of Holy Saturday.


I invite you to reflect with me on several key players; what they were or might have been thinking, doing and why:


The Roman Guard – what actions did the soldiers take, to ensure maximum security of the tomb? As far as Jesus’ tormentors were concerned, it was ‘mission accomplished’ and the likely consequences of spoiling the party would have been extreme. Why did the soldiers (appear to) take no notice of the two Marys?


Mary Magdalen and Mary, mother of James (we are told) sat in silence, opposite the tomb, having followed behind, with other women, as Jesus was led to his death. Why, did they decide to sit by the tomb, given the risks of identifying with Jesus, at the time? Was it part of their grieving (given how close both had been, to Jesus)? Were they hoping for – expecting ‘something’?


The disciples – Peter, despite his repeated promises to stick with Jesus, had denied him three times, and he was reeling in guilty and self-pity. Judas who had betrayed Jesus had hanged himself. What might the others (moderates?) have been thinking or doing? Could they have been huddled together, in prayer? Might some have been physically distancing, for their safety? Were some wondering when or whether they would be together again? Might they have been questioning (after witnessing Good Friday events) whether it had been worth it? This was a day of separation, grief, self- and collective doubt, a crisis of Faith in Jesus and of Hope for the future!


Jesus – where was He? The Apostles Creed gives us a pointer: ‘..He descended into Hell’! As a Christian, I often wish I could skip this line, when reciting the Apostles Creed. Yet, what I am saying is that I want to skip Holy Saturday, but how would I get to Easter Sunday, to celebrate His resurrection? Moreover, by descending into Hell, Jesus was destroying (Heb. 2: 14-15) ‘…him who holds the power of death…the devil….and free all….from fear of death.’


Today many of us are experiencing a sense of separation, perhaps the loss of a loved one or a relationship. Some are frightened of the future; perhaps the much-anticipated operation or home visit is on hold. Some are stuck in a foreign country or at sea, with no information, money, or flight home. For them, Holy Saturday, the day of separation and crisis of Faith is a journey, not a day. Some will, justifiably be asking; Where is Jesus, in my suffering?


The Jesus who invites us to follow him knows a thing or two, about suffering; He paid the ultimate price for us, then crashed the sting of death; this Jesus, who burst into life on Easter Sunday morning, to confound his tormentors and guards, provides enough grace to see you through your current situation. He is stretching his hand out to you, keep looking; when you clasp it, remember, every marathon starts with one step! 

 

Laid in Tomb

Easter Sunday's reflection will be found here.
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