What lies within?

Today I have been thinking about Jesus cleansing the Temple. In some ways this follows on from  my comments last week about how Christ dwelling in us means that we, in a mysterious way, become the temple of the Holy Spirit, Christ in us opening up our whole lives to the presence of God as an ever present reality. This is a wonderful truth but also, as I look at this painting of Jesus cleansing the Temple, a very challenging one. What is there in the temple of my heart that needs cleansing? What have I in my life that needs to be swept clean so that Christ can more fully enter?

Hard questions to answer, challenging ones. As I look at this painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch, I am reminded that our God is a holy God who calls on his disciples to also be holy, to worship only him. How often do I worship at the altars of commerce, popularity, success, possessions? What would Christ overturn in my life if would let him in more fully?

It may be Holy Week, but it has been the lines of a Christmas carol that have been running through my head as I pondered this. Not, perhaps, a carol that you may know, but one that in my Methodist childhood I loved to sing. The carol is “Cradled in a Manger Meanly” by George Rowe and I leave you with these words to contemplate as you walk with Christ as He enters the Temple and sweeps clean God’s house, Gods house of prayer.

Evil things are there before Thee;
In the heart, where they have fed,
Wilt Thou pitifully enter,
Son of Man, and lay Thy head?

Cleansing of the Temple – Carl Heinrich Bloch 1874
 

Put your hope in God

Today’s meditation from Rev Barbara Chandler currently working with Covid-19 patients in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.

Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember,  as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?’
10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

The manner in which we are preparing for Easter, the manner in which we live our every- day lives is a world away from how we prepared for and celebrated Christmas. Do you remember the days in which you could meet for coffee, wander into the supermarket without the slightest concern that there might not be any toilet rolls? The queues at checkouts were annoying because it was crowded and you would jostle against other people!

We now live in an alien world and connecting via the internet is good, but it is not the “real thing”. It feels as if we have already been in this strange land for years and yet it is only a couple of weeks and it will not last for ever, but it may seem at times to be never ending.

The psalmist recognised the longing of the soul to feel “at home” again. We don’t feel at home in this internet-based community and that in turn can lead us to ask, ‘how can I meet with God’.

Holy week would have brought us together to walk, as a family, the journey of Christ to the cross, supporting each other through our reflections at evening prayer, through the Good Friday services and into the joy and celebration of Easter Sunday. We will make this journey together, but as a dispersed family. As we try and adjust to this strange land we may cry out with the psalmist in verse 2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God”. Similar words cry out in Psalm 137, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” In addition to our own lament we may face questions from others, “Where is your God” verse 3 and 10. Where is God when the hospital fills and people are frightened. Where is God when relatives are turned away and told to remain at home. Where is God when a staff member is exhausted and the tears come. Where is God when the longing to just meet with someone face to face is a physical pain.

Two thousand years ago where was God as people turned from the law of love, to paths of cruelty, greed, self-interest and pride? God was in Jesus, walking the path to the cross, bearing all that was wrong and redeeming the world. God was, and is, in the midst of the mess.

Today God is in the hands of the health workers, clad in gowns and masks looking anything but human and yet a gloved hand gently squeezes the hand of frail and frightened patient and says “you are safe, I am here with you, we won’t leave you on your own”. God is there as medication is discussed, “how can we make this person comfortable and allay their fears”. God is there in the words of comfort given to relatives over the phone. God is there as a colleague seeing someone at the point of exhaustion says, “when did you have a break, come and have a cup of tea”. Acts of compassion that are not text book management of covid infections abound and each act of compassion is an act of love, an act in which as a Christian I see the work of the Spirit, the love of God. Northumbria Community morning prayer includes the plea, “…be in the heart of each to whom I speak; in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.” We are all made in the image of God and within each person, God is there, perhaps not recognised, but nevertheless the spring-water of the soul longs to flow forth. Kindness and goodness, fruits of the Spirit are bursting forth everywhere. Look at the dedication of all the shop workers, delivery drivers, police, fire service, the kindness of neighbours, of young people, the list could go on and on.

And so like the psalmist who asks, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Can we reply “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

Gethsemane

A Reflection on Gethsemane By Revd Norma Higgott- Chaplain at Highland Hospice, Inverness.

Olive Trees in the Garden Of Gethsemane

Matthew 26:36-45 

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.

Reflection

As we begin another Sunday on lockdown I thought I would just share a short reflection on the passage I was preparing to preach on this Sunday.  Our lives at the moment are so very different, as I drove to work at the Hospice today I was very aware of the empty roads, apart from a few very necessary delivery lorries, and of the lack of people moving about.  However I was also aware of the birds singing and the sounds of the wind and rain as I walked into the Hospice and I was very aware of the tensions that abound as I talked to folk who like me are continuing to work and bring comfort and compassion to patients and that is so very hard for some folk to cope with – we are fearful of what might be about to happen to us, although prepared to be there for the folk who rely on us and need our care. We are all, whether we are out working or staying at home, seeking some way of coping with that fear and the unprecedented changes that are happening around us! 

Today’s passage talks to us in this situation because Jesus here is also afraid, he is sorrowful and troubled and overwhelmed, just as we are, and while he is feeling that way he shows us one way to cope with it – he goes apart a little way from his disciples with just a few chosen ones and he goes to pray.  Now we may not be able in the current situation to go with others but we can all pray with others at a distance – we can pray at the same time – we can go online and hear others praying with and for us all – we can pray quietly by ourselves knowing that others are doing the same. 

But what should we be praying?  Perhaps again exactly the same as Jesus – , “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Maybe we won’t be able to escape this virus, even if we really want to and do everything we can to make that happen, but if we can pray as Jesus did, not as I will but as you will – we can then likewise commend ourselves to God’s loving mercy and support through what may happen.  Jesus knows what is about to happen to him and he would really like for it to pass him by but he knows that he can’t control things and he freely offers that control to God, to his loving, compassionate Father with the words “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  Perhaps we too may have to drink the cup but if we do, let’s do it in the sure knowledge that God loves us and will be with us each step of the way.

Prayer is a wonderfully powerful thing and shared prayer is incredibly healing and comforting but at times like these we sometimes forget that even if we are not in the same space we can all be in the same place as we pray together/apart.  Let us hold one another and all those affected by what’s happening in loving, healing prayer and look to Jesus who truly is the best example we can have of how to accept what is happening while commending ourselves and the situation to God.

Holding you all in loving prayer with some words sent to me recently by one of my fellow hospice chaplains as encouragement in this time of fear and anxiety.

God most high and holy,
all things are in your hands.
Your holy Word invites us to trust in you
and to be fearless
even when the earth gives way,
when the mountains fall into the sea,
when the waters roar and foam,
when nations are in an uproar,
and even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Hear the cries of your people
as we live in a world full of fear.

With your unlimited power,
with your boundless presence,
with your knowledge of all things, fill our hearts
with your peace that surpasses understanding.

When things are uncertain,
and crises are unseen, draw us to you,
to your certain Word and promise,
to your dear Son who suffered for us,
and to your enduring promise
never to leave us or forsake us.

Strengthen, encourage
and uphold us
in these difficult
and confusing times.

Fill us with faith in you,
with desires to serve our neighbours in love,
and to be strong and take heart
as we wait for you to work your good purpose
for the good of those who love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Source: Paul C. Stratman, A Collection of Prayers, March 16, 2020, during the COVID-19 / Corona Virus crisis.

With love and prayers.  Norma (Revd Norma Higgott)

How shall we sing the Lord’s song?

I have today been thinking about his strange new world in which we find ourselves. Yesterday I took a funeral service by Skype. The family were unable to be present, so,  the service was streamed live to them.  Hard yes, but also moving as those working at the firm came to sit in the service to be present and offer their respects, to share in the sense of universal grief of humanity. As John Donne so eloquently put it “any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”

I also had the strange experience of blessing palm crosses in an empty church and then stuffing them into envelopes. – all done wearing disposable gloves! After that I walked down the deserted high street to the post office. Here I engaged in the new dance- otherwise known as social distancing whilst getting stamps. I then discovered that trying to put self-adhesive stamps on envelopes whilst wearing disposable gloves is tricky!

Everything is somewhat surreal, and we are all having to work out new ways of living and being in this strange place. What it brought to mind for me was a line from Psalm 137. The people of Israel have been carried away into captivity in Babylon and their captors taunt them, asking them to sing songs of mirth. The people reply…

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

They remember how they used to sing as they went with joy and in procession up to the temple at Jerusalem, how they sang God’s praises in that holy place. Now, exiled and far from home they long to be back where they belong, they long to worship as they once did.

As we enter Holy Week, we may find ourselves feeling something similar to those Israelites long ago. We cannot worship as we had planned to here for our special Palm Sunday words and music. We cannot come to Compline to be still and quiet as we journey through these last days of Christ.  We cannot participate together in the moving drama of Maundy Thursday, nor gather around the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. In this strange and alien world in which we find ourselves, how shall we sing the Lord’s song this Easter?

Well, I think with new songs of worship that are open to us precisely because of Easter!  We no longer need a temple to worship in, for Jesus Himself is the new temple, the one in whom we can all meet with God. He has opened the way into the presence of God and invites each one of us to come in and worship God in spirit and in truth. Of course we will all find it very hard not to worship together,  to be a pilgrim people journeying with one another through Holy Week, but that does not mean that we cannot draw near to God in our own homes. We can pray, read the Gospel accounts of Jesus final week, sit with him at the Last Supper, follow him to Gethsemane. We can sing the old familiar Easter hymns and worship in our hearts and lives, knowing as we do so that we are one in Spirit, if not in body.

Finally come Easter Day we can declare again that Jesus Christ is risen, he has conquered death, sin and fear. And we can join with countless men and women of faith across the whole world and with those who now worship on another shore….. a new song, a song of trust in Jesus Christ, the one who was and is and is to come, the Lamb upon the throne. To him be glory for ever!  

Evening Prayer On Palm Sunday

The Scottish Episcopal Church is one of 14 church groups across Scotland asking Christians to join in prayer at 7pm on Palm Sunday evening.

On the past two Sundays, thousands of Christians across the country answered the call to pray at the same time in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week’s joint statement says: “As we continue to live through this time of trial, we sense an ever renewed Call to Prayer. We are not alone in hearing this call.”

The full statement and prayer – available in both English and Gaelic – can be found here:

https://www.scotland.anglican.org/churches-join-in-prayer-on-palm-sunday-evening/

I was reminded this morning of a curious phrase in Luke’s Gospel where we read that Jesus “set his face towards Jerusalem.” (Luke 9 v 51). It quite simply means that Jesus was determined on his course of action. He knew what he would meet: betrayal, arrest, beatings, mocking and an agonising death. And yet, knowing what lay ahead, he still set his face towards Jerusalem.

What Jesus faced was a battle with the powers of sin and evil for the whole world – a battle against death itself.  And Jesus had an option. He could have chosen not to go to Jerusalem. He could have remained safe by staying away from the city. He could have gone on travelling around teaching and healing the sick. He could have gone on to train up more disciples, to enjoy friendship and laughter, to eat at the home of Martha and Mary, to look after his mother and the other women who had gathered around him. But Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.

Why? Because of love. Because of grace. Because of mercy. He alone could conquer sin and death and for that to happen he had to go to Jerusalem.

Like Jesus on that road we, his creation, find ourselves on a long and difficult road in the grip of this virus. Behind the grim daily death toll lies a world suffering, afraid, a strange world of isolation and for some death. But it was precisely to save us from this that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. To face down the powers of sin and evil and conquer them. To offer a way of through suffering and bring redemption. To defeat the final enemy of death itself and rise victorious.

Covid- 19 may stalk the world, but it will not have the final word. The final word belongs to Christ on the cross; “It is finished.”  And on to that glorious Easter morning, the death of death and the path to eternal life open for all who will follow.

As we walk through this difficult time let us remember this Passiontide, that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem for our sake precisely so that we should not walk this path alone. He has gone before us; he has already defeated the enemies of sin and fear of sickness and death.  He meets us, and just as he said to his disciples on the lake as they struggled with the waves that threatened to overpower them:

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Today has been a busy day for me trying to master new technology and produce various things for the parish. I also went out on my weekly shop and learned how to keep my distance in the aisles at the supermarket. It struck me that we must look quite amusing-as though we are all engaged in some new dance that no-one quite knew the steps for!

It was, however, very encouraging to see that people were being so aware of others, making space for them and everyone seemed quite calm as they adjusted to this new way of getting their groceries

We are all having to learn new ways of living at the moment as Barbara so aptly commented in her meditation yesterday.  For some that will be an increased work- load, for others a much slower one, for others a different way of working, for many frustration that they cannot be doing more. As I reflected on her words, I found myself drawn to this prayer which I share with you. It is taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1940).

“This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words; give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.”

It reminded me of something St Paul said;

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  

Philippians 4 v 11-13

Give thanks…

Todays meditation comes from Rev Dr Barbara Chandler. Barbara is a member of the ministry team at St James and St Anne’s who works as a consultant at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.

Christ in the house of Marth and Mary by Johannes Vermeer 1654
Scottish National Gallery

The gospel set for Sunday 29th March is John 11:1-45. It is the familiar account of Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus. We are familiar with the caricature of the two sisters one always busy, busy, busy; the other reflective, dreaming, pondering.
As we enter the second week of lockdown I know that many are struggling, some because they are too busy and some because they are at home with none of the usual daily activities. I wonder if within each of us there is a Martha and a Mary side to our character? Sometimes one should take precedence over the other and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong.
When Jesus visited the sisters as described in Luke chapter 10, Martha kept on with the household tasks rather than sitting for a moment and listening, accepting the invitation to cross the social taboo and as a woman to sit and be taught. I do wonder at other times, when Mary was sitting reflecting, a better form of worship would have been cooking or doing the dishes!
It’s not easy, but I just wonder if we can give thanks for the particular place we find ourselves in just now – if you have more time than you know what to do with, use some of it for prayer. If you have no time because you’re now home schooling, working in one of the many essential jobs and coping with staff sickness, then know that the work of your hands can be prayer and worship, and know also that others are holding you in prayer.

It’s not easy but let’s try and hang on to St Paul’s words

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Come and see…..

Those two words jumped out at me today as I joined the Bishop of Edinburgh for the online service from his home.  These simple online services that bring worship, word and witness into our homes are, for those who are fortunate to be able to see them, very comforting and oddly moving.

The phrase “come and see” is part of the Gospel reading for today and comes from John 11 -the account of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus has arrived too late to save his friend it would seem. He finds Lazarus’ sisters weeping and asks where the body has been laid. “Come and see” they say to him. Jesus follows them to the tomb, greatly moved and disturbed in spirit. He sees the grief and tears,  he hears the anguish and sorrow. Then, in two of the most powerful words in the Bible, we read:

“Jesus wept.”

For the last few days, I have had an image. It is of Jesus walking the streets of our empty towns. It is of Jesus walking in our deserted schools and playgrounds, in our empty businesses and offices. It is of Jesus walking in our care homes and hospitals. It is of Jesus in intensive care units all over the world. It is of Jesus in morgues and at gravesides. And in each place, Jesus is weeping.

Jesus weeps with those who weep today in fear, sorrow and uncertainty.  He weeps with those exhausted, mentally and physically on the medical font line. He weeps with those who cannot visit their loved ones in hospital. He weeps with those who are alone and those who are far from family. Jesus weeps with those who weep today.

It is a profound moment in the life of Jesus as he shares our human sorrow and grief. And we, as his disciples, are called also to share one another’s sorrows, to bear one another’s burdens, to weep with those who weep. (Romans 12 v 15). Like many of you I am sure, I have found myself in tears at times this week seeing the heartache and grief and fear that is stalking our world. I have also been moved to tears by the courage of so many doctors and nurses, carers and front line workers. By the goodness and community spirit shown, by the simple acts of kindness and humanity shining through. The psalmist gives us that lovely image of God watching over us and gathering all our tears into a bottle. Christ weeps with us and keeps count of all our sorrows.

But the phrase. “come and see” also comes at another crucial place in the Bible.. It comes at the tomb on Easter morning. The women come to grieve at the tomb of Jesus, to weep and mourn. But they are met by an angel of the Lord who says:

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has ben raised, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”

Come and see-see the risen Lord Jesus, the one who has conquered death is here. Come and see -the one who loves you and who is alive for evermore is present with you now. Come and see the one who can bring healing and hope to the fearful and comfort to those who mourn. Come and see- for the one who walks our town and villages in tears is also the risen Lord who brings new life, hope and the promise of peace. Come and see, for the door is open wide and Jesus waits for you.

Come and see

“Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead and see! I am alive for ever and ever.” Revelation 1 v 17