Advent-ure

I can’t get enough of advent. Back in the Northern Hemisphere, as the darker nights get darker, my longing for light becomes stronger, and the promise of an inextinguishable, life-giving Sun is so rich and hopeful and true that my whole soul becomes a big ‘YES PLEASE LORD’*.

Here in New Zealand, of course, that’s a whole different thing. Today is the longest day of the year and at the end of the nine lessons and carols service I just went to, the congregation spilled out into the bright church garden with mince pies and chilled prosecco, rather than the mulled wine I’m more used to.

I am, on reflection, very thankful for my Northern Hemisphere forebears in faith that they chose the turning of the year, the very beginning of the stretch in the days, the first sign of spring, as the time they chose to celebrate the joyous, decisive glimpse of hope in the manger. But it’s been helpful to uncouple my advent hopes from my circadian rhythms, and from cold-weather, busy-city traditions, and hear the prophecies and songs of Christmas with the sun shining. It makes me see them differently.

One simple thought followed by a rather more complicated one…

Simply – I’ve run out of words to describe the astonishing beauty of this land. It’s literally had me in tears of gratitude some days. IMG_20191218_171802

There’s a grandeur and scale, along with a gentleness and intimacy that is soul-filling and restorative (the birdsong! the flowers! The pohutukawa trees burst into red blossom just in time for Christmas and all creation sings).

pohutukawa

And the creator of all of this, beauty and truth incarnate, became a baby, vulnerable, helpless, to bring to His creation salvation and hope in a way that even the most glorious view can’t. Grandeur and gentleness. The maker of the stars and sea, become a child on earth… for me.

And more complicatedly, it’s been a huge privilege to learn something of the story of this land and its people from a number of different perspectives. I hear within the stories a deep yearning for justice and reconciliation, and an open-eyed recognition of the costs this involves. Perhaps because of the incredible people I’ve met, and their committed sense of vocation in this, I’m left feeling excited and hopeful about what God is doing and stirring here. It’s a taster of the excitement and hope I see in Mary’s and Zechariah’s songs at the beginning of Luke’s gospel…

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

The first Christian sermon preached in New Zealand was on Christmas Day, 1814, by a CMS Missionary, Samuel Marsden, and translated by Ruatara, the Maori leader who was hosting the visit. First they read Psalm 100:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Then they shared the song of the angels from Luke 2: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy!”

I can’t do justice to the thought-provoking conversations I’ve been having and the reading I’ve been doing about the interactions between missionaries and Maori in the decades that followed. Suffice it to say that the good news didn’t arrived in an unmixed way. Here are some links, which I’ve tried to balance a bit for some different viewpoints, for any interested in reading further. This good news did bear some of the fruit of which the angels sang – peace on earth and goodwill to people (see this, for example – one iconic story of the impact of the message of Christianity and a printed gospel: http://tarorestory.org.nz/blog/the-story-of-tarore-of-waharoa/ ) – but despite some genuinely noble, sacrificial, self-giving action on the part of many, the good news of a Servant King also became caught up in earthly power (one perspective on the impact of Samuel Marsden and Ruatara: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/missionaries/marsden-and-cms). Trust was betrayed too often – once is too often – and untruth often followed. This is a somewhat nuanced and helpful telling of the story I’ve summarised above: https://www.salvationarmy.org.nz/ruataras-mission And this is a heavy read, the summary of a PhD thesis looking ahead – how can reconciliation be made possible, given the history of one particular area of significant land? https://www.anglicantaonga.org.nz/features/extra/naboth

This is before I even open up the story of the Waitangi treaty – that’s one for a longer chat.

Recently, the church engaged in an act of repentance: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12169112   Astonishingly, one of the ways this apology was greeted was with an unprompted singing of ‘O Holy Night’. Let that give you shivers as you sing it next time.

One thing acknowledged here is that the work of repentance and reconciliation is not accomplished in a single day. And it is a work. I thank God that what we know of Jesus’ ministry doesn’t end with a baby in a manger.

The gospel of Luke has accompanied me throughout my time in New Zealand and, after the announcement of good news at the beginning, preached at that service in 1814, there is a long working-out. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (7.22). And… followers (try to) learn to serve rather than be served (22.26-27), to forgive, 7 times a day and more, (17.24), to engage in their King’s work of healing and reconciling. Christians might use the word ‘discipleship’, a word that has hovered, like the birdsong, over my sabbatical time. Ultimately, we see the fullness of reconciliation between a holy God and a messed-up humanity accomplished by the laying down of this King’s life.

It is God’s generosity and grace that not only embodies that working-out of good news through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but invites us into it, giving us the dignity and privilege of accompanying Him in His post-Christmas, post-Easter life.

This blog hasn’t quite ended up the way I thought it would, but I wanted to mark the end of my time in New Zealand so I’ll leave it here. A poem springs to mind which seems to fit where my thoughts have arrived. It’s by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian and civil rights leader.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.

Amen.

Happy Christmas.

 

*, or in more biblical terms, ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus’.

Home

On the third day of advent, bubble wrap, cardboard boxes and brown paper dominated the back rows at Wellington Cathedral. Mary and Joseph, with shepherds and angels, were shedding their packaging and taking their place in the ‘chapel without walls’. At the same time and in the same space, microwaves, kitchen bins and hoovers, pots and pans and glasses, tins of peaches and soup, and freshly laundered sheets and duvet covers were being ticked off lists and tucked into boxes. These were collected and donated by parishes in the Wellington Diocese to equip homes for families of refugees, newly arrived in the area. You don’t need me to make the connection.

This wasn’t a Christmas special, room-at-the-inn kind of effort. The Anglican and Catholic Dioceses mobilise a bunch of parishes every other month to kit out houses like this. The Anglican side of things is run – naturally it is – by a volunteer, a woman of retirement age, a matchless, determined, gentle soul whose skills in persuasion, database-wrangling, checklist-checking and co-ordination are the engine by which this epic effort runs. Thinking I should make myself vaguely useful while I’m here, I joined in, spending a couple of days doing sorting and packing at the cathedral, and joining a small team setting up a house. We unpacked boxes, made the beds and filled the cupboards for a family arriving tomorrow. One woman brought home-baked muffins and a bunch of sweet peas.

Let every heart prepare Him room, we sing.

My time here – it’s hard to believe it has been just a little over two weeks – has provided me with freshly laundered layers of imagery for what this means.

Another example. I was given a front door key when I arrived here and have used it precisely three times. Most of the time the door is open. This expresses completely the spirit in which I have been welcomed. Under this roof, two parents, three children and two students rest their heads. They’ve opened a room for me while I’m here – and more than that, meals, prayers, deep conversations, and shared endeavours (this morning, for example, a Hairy McLary jigsaw) – and last night, at less than 24 hours notice, 3 further students were squeezed in so they could join a refugee forum at the nearby university.

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide thy heavenly home.

I’m reading the gospel of Luke during my sabbatical and recently read:

“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”

Something about the sing-song cadence of this made me suddenly wonder whether this was a refrain Jesus’ mother Mary found herself half murmuring, half lullabying to Jesus as they moved, time and again, throughout His childhood. Jesus was so used to being hosted – but in the world He himself created. It’s we who are the guests in His creation, and at His table.

I’ve just been chatting with one of my hosts here who was telling me about a reflection on the word welcome.  I am well because you have come. I am more whole, the suggestion is, because I have hosted you.

Our songs of Advent teach us to prepare to be both host and guest. Both are costly. Both are enriching.

It’s got to be said, too, both benefit a good firm tug away from abstraction and towards practicality. Both are about food and washing up, taking turns in the bathroom, and communication. They’re about mutual attention to one another’s needs for prayer and solitude, conversation and company – and proper attention, too, to one’s own. Being a host, and being a guest, in other words, both train us to be more human.

As we anticipate the birth of Jesus, who shows us humanity perfected, might this be the Spirit’s work in me.

Ngatiawa River

Down to the river to pray

Ngatiawa River
Ngatiawa River

I spent much of this week at the Ngatiawa River Monastery, a contemporary monastery of 20 or so people, adults and children, seeking to follow Jesus in a pattern of prayer, hospitality, community, justice, and self-giving love. I got to stay in their ‘prayer hut’, a basic cabin overlooking the monastery and join in with some of their rhythms. They welcomed me with great meals, thoughtful and fascinating conversation, Spirit-breathed prayer and fun bantz.  Here’s something of what I came across there.

Ngatiawa's vision
Ngatiawa River Monastery vision

After a morning sermonising in my hut, on Thursday afternoon I took a walk. I headed upwards from the monastery, along Connolly Way, through a gate, and onto a tarmac track fighting a losing battle with the grass, greedy for territory. The grass had back-up – endless hills alive with choppy green waves – and, undaunted by the sheep steadily tucking in, it had this land covered from the get-go.

I stopped frequently, to take breath, but more often, just to take it in. How on earth, I asked, did God create so many shades of green? And what riotous mood was He in when he decided to crowd them all into this one section of His good earth? For contrast, foxgloves litter the fields and verges. When they cluster around streams chuckling down the hill, the overall effect is ludicrously picturesque.

The endless layers of green
The endless layers of green

The soundtrack is no less ridiculous in its variety. The monastery is a liturgical place and so perhaps my ears were open to the liturgies on my walk. The trees whisper biddings. The streams offer burbling absolution to confessions. There are birds singing in psalms of steady, rhythmic arpeggios and others trilling, shrieking or chattering – the varied voice of praise.

There’s one bird I’ve heard a lot which is unlike any I’ve come across in the UK. Its song is a weird mix of rather guttural croaks and mechanical sounding whirrs, alongside ecstatic melodies, flute-like and free. Sometimes the two types of call come together in what can only be described as a sort of bird’s yodel.

I’ve described the call to a few new NZ friends and they nod knowingly – this is the call of a Tui, otherwise known as a parson bird. It’s named after its outfit – almost completely oily black but with a clerical puff of white under its neck. They’re described with a certain amount of affection – they’re characterful, as every good parson should be, rather bold, and very territorial, as every good parson probably shouldn’t be.

True to its apparent character, this Tui, initially popping by regularly, suddenly decided to make himself largely scarce when I decided I wanted to photograph him (hence rushed, poor picture...)
True to its apparent character, this Tui, initially popping by regularly, suddenly decided to make himself largely scarce when I decided I wanted to photograph him (hence rushed, poor picture…)

I’ve also been told, intriguingly, that they have two voice boxes – hence their two modes of song. One friend told me that this is further evidence of their parson’s vocation – they are to speak both to earth, and to heaven.

To my ears, the earthly song of the tui sounds jarring and, frankly, sometimes rather ugly. The heavenly notes though – they catch up your heart and soul and lift them from whatever else you were doing to thy kingdom come. And these notes carry. They are the calls that you’ll hear across the valleys.

It makes me think about the relative weight I place on these two parts of my call – talking to earth, and talking to heaven. Those heavenly calls – these are the one that carry.

It’s so good to be on sabbatical with glorious, spacious time to pray. I have a hunch that what I’m doing here, calling out to heaven, will actually ‘carry’ quite a long way further than whatever I might otherwise be getting up to, croaking back in Peckham.

Advent begins.  Expectantly we listen out:  a Word will come, and in Him the two languages of earth and heaven come together perfectly.  Tune in.  Can you hear?

 

PS. In case you’re wondering, despite all this bird talk, St Francis I ain’t becoming. My prayer hut at Ngatiawa is essentially a shepherd’s hut in a field I’m sharing with three sheep. They are decidedly unimpressed by my presence. When I walked up on my first evening here, I was greeted by the three of them standing in my path and eye-balling me. As is only polite, I said hello and paused, hoping they might step aside. They did not. I stepped forward and one of them looked me straight in the eye and peed, pointedly, just at my door. Praise Him all creatures here below, indeed.

Christmas in Peckham

I have loved Christmas in Peckham ever since I moved in, largely rye lane fruitbecause the nativity seems so flipping near here.  Rye Lane, with its store-keepers yelling offers on divine fruit and ordinary phone credit, its irritable and joyous families, is a pomegranate’s throw from Bethlehem’s crowded streets at census-time.

There are lights everywhere around my estate – the ordinary ones lighting the stairwells, and the extraordinary ones signifying a revelation of some night-defying kind; they may as well be stars.  Angels litter the streets, some disclosing themselves in matter-of-fact kindnesses, some in whirls of inviting laughter, some in shy dance steps. The other week, unseen from one another, I came across two such angels within 20 steps – one small boy, one grown man, each beautifying the ground they trod on with moves meant only for themselves, their creator, and a passer-by, off the beaten track, with her eyes open.

And the shepherds.  I see them in the garages opposite my church.  Something has always said to me that this would be where the angels would appear, to find kindness, courage, imagination and humanity ripe to receive news of a King born into a feeding trough. peckham001-681x426

This year, this thought has especially tugged at me, as I have remembered that earlier in the summer, it was one of the mechanic-shepherds, who I won’t name here, who responded when a young man was stabbed 75 metres away, and went to help, and held him as he died.  Kindness, courage, and humanity – and a readiness to go.

The angels sing their news as good and joyful, but then they make an invitation which it takes courage to receive and respond to: “you will find…”… with an unsung ‘if’…. “if you go and look.” There is rescue for you and the world, the angel said, if you will go and find it, if you will leave what is familiar and find rescue in a vulnerable life, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Rescue with a twist.  Rescue from the safety of self-sufficiency.  Rescue from the easy patterns of world-drawn relationships and powers and hierarchies.  It is disquieting to be shown a new way, different from the ways you and the world have become accustomed to, even if you have a nagging sense that what you and the world have become accustomed to is less-than-wholly living.  It is more comfortable to ignore it.

But do not fear.  This new way comes to you not carved into immoveable stones or fixed into unresponsive forms, but comes to you alive in a small child, the living beginning of a story, the living beginning of a human being. baby

And the shepherds, brave and imaginative, kind as their work, had the courage to take the offer.  ‘Let’s go’, they said.  To decide to live uncowed, to believe the angel’s ‘do not fear’, and to act on it.

Courage to go.  Courage to live unfettered by what you and the world expect, and come within touching distance of God.

Making sense in the gap

The Church of England, with its customary penchant for a catchy       title, calls the season we’re currently in “after Ascension Day until the Day of Pentecost”. Well, it’s nothing if not literal. I wonder if it would work in a hashtag?

But as I pondered a sermon for last Sunday, I was struck by the       importance of this curious little gap between seasons.  Sometimes we need gaps to make sense of a story.

JesusdiedroseascendedtheSpiritcamethechurchwasborn.

I’m told this is how writing used to look. ‘Scripta continua’, trying to represent the human voice speaking, running words into each other. But scribes found that readers needed pauses, needed breaths, needed space to see the words clearly.

Signwriters are still finding this today.

opportunity is nowhere

JesusdiedroseascendedtheSpiritcamethechurchwasborn, yes, but there were spaces in this history.

There was Good Friday, and then, before Easter came, there was a Saturday which no-one dared call good. Jesus rose, and then, for      forty days, met with friends and with crowds, apparently eating quite a lot of fish.

He ascended, and the clouds hid him from his friends, and then – this.  This week, in which he is hidden.  This week, in which the only way his friends could think to respond was to wait and to pray.  This gap.

If we read without the gaps, when we come across times in our lives or in our world, where Jesus is hidden in the clouds, we might think we’ve got something wrong.  Have we not done enough, or done too much?  Do we have this story wrong, if Jesus seems hidden?

But if we read with the gaps, when the clouds hide the full goodness of God, when we are waiting for the full picture, then we know that this is part of the story.  After the gap, there will be a new word, a new season, a new hope.  It’s coming.  We are left with the promise of Jesus ringing in our ears.  It’s coming.  But it’s not here yet.  And if, in the meantime, we don’t know how to do anything but wait, and pray, and be together, let’s do that.

Last Monday, clouds gathered in Manchester.  We hear of the clouds in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. Our hearts break again.  We ask, again, God, where have you gone?  Why are you hidden?

We weep with those who weep.  We wait with those who wait.

We look for the new word, the new season - but in the meantime, we will wait, we will pray, we will be together, in the gap.

For Palm Sunday

From Matthew 21.1-11

I wonder if he climbed onto the donkey’s back

Because he feared his legs would give way.

 

As he looked across the valley,

I wonder if he feared his knees would grow weak,

And he would stumble.

The one who had brought sight to the sightless,

Blinded by tears for this city.

 

I wonder if he climbed onto the donkey’s back,

Fearful that his own feet may not have the strength for these steps.

The one who brought strength to the weary,

Falling to the ground:

take this cup away from me”.

 

And he climbed onto the donkey’s back,

To better bear the weight of the love swelling in him,

Overwhelming him,

For the crowds around him, singing

“Save us”

For the city before him, asking

“who is this?”

 

 

 

Nothing to see here

Someone said as we sailed across the lake of Galilee that here they could see every day of creation.  Light, water, plants, sun, fish, birds, living creatures, and humanity.  No wonder Jesus, the creator, seemed to enjoy being here so much.

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There’s something about the combination of sea and sky that makes me think that on one day of creation, God woke up with an enormous enthusiasm for the colour blue.  The following day, green was the colour that excited him.  “What colour shall we make olive trees?” “Green!” “Pines?” “Green!  A whole new shade!”

There’s an ease and an exhilaration about meeting with God and His surprising Spirit when you’re in a boat and the sun is shining on the lake where Jesus walked.  Or you’re on a hillside celebrating communion, singing of angels and shepherds where we believe angels and shepherds met – and the breeze dares you onward in this adventure with Jesus.

But it felt like an invitation to a wider adventure when Rami, our guide, told us about the last place we would break bread together on our pilgrimage.  “It’s one of four places where people have claimed that Jesus broke bread on the road to Emmaus.  There’s not much reason to think it was definitely here.  No-one knows for sure.”

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We read how Jesus walked and talked on a road somewhere near here, unrecognised, and then was invited for dinner by hospitable and curious people.  “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening”.

At the table, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and shared it with them, and as he did so, they realised they knew this stranger after all. He was alive. Their hearts burned so that they couldn’t stay still, and they ran the 7 miles back to Jerusalem to share the news with their friends.

There are churches built at each of the possible sites of this encounter, but because of the uncertainty about the physical place, they are less visited as sites of pilgrimage.  Not so many mosaics, not so much gold.  Not even, in this place, a roof.  Just ordinary places of worship.  Ordinary sites of encounter with the risen Jesus.  Ordinary places where strangers are welcomed and hearts burn with joy, with the good news that God is with us.

It isn’t that it was this place, it’s that it was a place.  It doesn’t matter where the road was, or the table, or the home – but that it was a road, a table, a home.

At the night service of Compline, we can – if we dare – pray:

Come with the dawning of the day      //      And make yourself known in the breaking of the bread.

He does answer that prayer, I have found.  This enlivening Spirit, this inviting, present God.  If we sit with him at our tables – at any tables - He will make Himself known and He will stir us, challenge us, comfort us and change us in ways that we had never expected. We may find ourselves running joyful miles to tell friends what we have received.

Will that be your prayer, this Lent?

Dare you.

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Being made wholly

We walked the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, amidst the ordinary life of Jerusalemites – the sound of a school playground, the woman struggling up the steps with a trolley of shopping, the person who helped her, the sellers of toothpaste and apples as well as of religious trinkets and olive oil.  And we thought of the condemned man, Jesus, walking to his death amidst life.   I wonder if his heart swelled with love when he heard the voices of children or when he saw a person helping another, when he saw each individual human face.

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I’ve long puzzled about holiness.  There is something in the word ‘holy’, in Hebrew (kadosh), Greek (hagios), and in English which is about being set apart, reserved, differentiated.  But, I’ve thought, when singing this word with dusty feet, dirty clothes, and a mistake-strewn life, I sing it because the story can’t - doesn’t – end there. I thought it again walking this way, which ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Church of the Set-Apart Sepulchre, the Way of the Set-Apart Cross is very much, emphatically, in the midst.  Expressions of spirituality at this site of acknowledged holiness varied from wiping a stone with multiple cloths, then carefully setting them aside in ziplock plastic bags, to quiet kneeling, to selfies outside.  Genuflection through the click of a shutter.

This holy place is cluttered with humanity. Glorious, varied, beautiful, confusing, confused humanity.

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It was the choice of a Holy God to come into the midst.  To give us, the dusty confused ones, an invitation into an expansive holiness, a holiness which  – somehow, one day – will be cosmos-wide.

The vision of the end of all things, I kept remembering in crowded, complicated Jerusalem, is not of a serene simple countryside, but of a cosmopolitan, peopled city.  A city which is called Holy.

***

Which makes high walls and barbed wire and separation jar even more.

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We spent a morning at Cremisan convent, where wry, witty, outraged lawyers told us about their decade of advocacy to prevent the separation wall from being extended around the walls of the convent, separating them from the poor community they served with a nursery school, separating them from the brothers they prayed with at the nearby monastery, separating the people of this suburb of Bethlehem from their vital agricultural land.  They told us of a (rare) victory.  (Sadly since overturned.)

But the presence of the wall, 9 metres high, across the hills and through olive groves, gathering an overcrowded poor Little Town on one side and spaciousness on the other, felt like an assault on the land itself, let alone its people.

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It’s not just here that separation intrudes.  I saw barbed wire on the top of a wall around a church.  We separate ourselves, close church doors, shut down difficult conversations.

***

And then, around the corner from the Not-So-Separate Church, a teenager with a calippo in one hand and a gun in the other. A café full of teenagers looking like every youth weekend away I’ve seen, but with the guns.  Slung over the backs of seats or shoulders.

Maybe there are some things which should be kept separate.  Guns and calippos.

***

Webster’s Dictionary gives a second definition.  Holiness as wholeness.  Being made holy as being made whole.

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The trial

There’s a gap between two chapters of Matthew’s gospel that I’d never noticed before.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMatthew 26.  The arrest, the dragging up these steps, in view of the road on which he’d entered the city like a strange victor on a donkey, in view of the city over which he’d wept.  The shoving and kicking to the home of the High Priest for a hasty mock trial.  The tearing of clothes, the spitting and the slapping.

And then, the night.

Before Matthew 27 “When morning came…”.

The night.  After the day of arrest and betrayal.  Before the ‘what happens next’.

At this spot, below the High Priests house, is a pit.  At the time of Jesus, a ‘holding cell’, for a man to be held between arrest and trial, between judgement and punishment, life and death, would be a pit.  Into this he would be lowered, bound, alone.

Even the words of the gospel writer don’t accompany Jesus into this place.

But perhaps the words of the Psalmist accompanied him there.  Perhaps these stones breathed in these words, breathed out of Jesus’ lonely lips.

O Lord, God of my salvation,
    when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.

I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
    I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

The gospels are full of people.  But in this pit, Jesus was abandoned to loneliness.  I find myself shrinking from imagining it – the fear, the slowness of the hours passing.

There are no places of our own loneliness from which Jesus shrinks.

 

 

 

Jesus and his buddies

At the end of a hot day, if there is a big lake in front of you, and some free time before dinner, you jump into it.  And if you are with good buddies, friends you’ve struggled and joked and argued with, someone pushes someone else in, and almost certainly, there’s splashing of the person on shore who doesn’t want to get his sandals wet.  Eventually he jumps in too.

Which is why, although, as far as I’m aware, there’s no biblical record of Jesus swimming in Lake Galilee, I’m sure he did.  This water wasn’t just made for walking. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Swimming in the strokes of Jesus, looking over the water to the hills, was just one more reminder of his alive-ness.   Picturing the shoving and the splashing (was it Matthew who stayed on shore the longest, the cautious tax collector, uncertain?  Was it James and John, the brothers, the sons of thunder, who competed with each other to see who could get to the shore first?), hearing the laughter, knowing the sheer physical joy of water, brought new colour to how I think  Jesus’ love meets us.  It is the love of someone who delights in our company.

God, who delights in our company.

We can ‘abstract’ God’s love, if we’re not careful – choosing to receive something theoretical or generic rather than the dangerous intimacy of this – wow – this friendship, this known-ness, this delight.

I have called you friends”.

___________

And then, this gang of buddies, who knew and loved each other, went from splashing around in the lake and on the shore, from the miracles and the mountaintop teaching, through the desert into Jerusalem.

They hung out on the Mount of Olives – it was their neighbourhood.  “See you at the Olives later?” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One time, as they were strolling, Jesus walked ahead with three of them.  In one of those moments you sometimes have with friends, he told them how he was feeling and found himself in tears.  You can do that with friends.  “Stay awake with me”, he asked.  They saw him, their good friend, the one they had laughed and learned with, throw himself face down, sobbing.  And in those moments you sometimes have, even with friends, they had no idea what to say.  They waited, and eventually they slept.

They had no pattern for this moment of friendship, so when the arrest came, there was a confusion of shouting and protection, then fear and denial, and a scattering.  This gang of buddies, who knew and loved each other, didn’t know how to watch their friend die.

We visited a church called St Peters at Gallicantu.  This is thought to be built on the site of the old High Priest’s house, where Jesus was arrested, outside which Peter denied he’d known Jesus. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is an unbearably poignant moment of the gospels, and an unbearably poignant spot.

I have called you friends” to “I don’t know this man”.

Jesus’ friendship, his vulnerability to our fickleness.

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And then, from here, through the pit, the cave, the tomb, back to the beach on Galilee. Jesus, raised from the dead, victorious, met his friend Peter again.

This is a moment of incredible poignancy too, but instead of being unbearable, it is burstingly hopeful.

Peter hurried and tumbled out of the boat.  In the matter of friendship, of saying sorry, isn’t this the right side to err on?  The side of clumsy reconciliation, falling over yourself, splashing around towards someone, towards the awkwardness?

Jesus had cooked bread and fish for his friends on this beach.  It’s impossible to imagine this meal taking place without some memories of the last time they’d shared bread together.

“I have called you friends”.

We shared bread and wine nearby and had fish for lunch.

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