Discovering how we can meet God in the ordinary stuff of our everyday life is a central purpose in Vessel activities. Being able to celebrate this present moment, to reflect on what God might be saying to us in it is a challenge for most of us and we need help and encouragement to practice and settle into the holiness of ‘here’. We want to live in the invitation and adventure of the Holy Here and learn to Wholly Hear God in it.
Give us this day our daily bread :
a month of bite-size reflections for busy mothers
If the absence of bread flour and yeast on our shop shelves during lockdown is anything to go by we have become a nation of bread makers once more. Perhaps for some there is more time available and the making of a household staple has been a return to a wholesome, slow and home based act of provision and nurture for ourselves and our families. For many mothers though this image of reflective baking and the smell of homemade bread filling our homes mocks the ‘domestic goddess’ we may aspire (and fail!) to be and is a far cry from the muddle of juggling work, child care, home schooling and the lack of physical and emotional space we have for self care and time with God.
The following reflections are offered as a way to meet God in the mess and muddle and to perhaps deepen our awareness that God comes to us offering just the ‘bread’ that we need for the day. Manna – like this ‘bread’ is just for the moment we find ourselves in, not for accumulation but just today’s mouthful in recognition that tomorrow we will return hungry again and ask once more for what we need to get through these strange, dismantling and formative days.
This month of reflections takes the practice of making bread and uses it to explore how this process may find its echo in our life with God and our life-living with our families. It does not require any bread making (unless you want to!) but just the willingness to be present to the daily act of making food for ourselves and our families. This may be slicing bread or toasting it or making a sandwich or cutting and cooking vegetables for an evening meal. The specific activity itself is less important than the ‘attaching’ of these daily reflections to that repeated daily action of preparing, making and baking meals to share with those we spend our days with.
God chooses to come to where we are and meet us in the mundane, repeated habits of our human lives. Time to be quiet and to ‘retreat’ may be in very short supply and so these reflections are designed to simply break into our consciousness and remind us that God is with us as we go about our daily round. Just perhaps a question to chew on as we go about our work.
You might like to print off the reflections and cut them up and then blue-tack a new reflection above the toaster or bread bin either last thing at night or as you prepare breakfast each day.
Week 1: weighing and mixing the ingredients of our lives
‘Our firm decision is to work from this focused centre: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other’
2 Corinthians 5 (TheMessage)
Weighing : before ingredients are mixed they must be weighed.
What carries weight in your life just now?
What measure do you use to weigh or evaluate your own success, or effectiveness, or worth?
As mothers there is huge potential for maternal guilt, weighing ourselves against external standards and finding ourselves wanting! Might we start this month by receiving the hand of friendship God offers us? Here in the grace of God we stand, there is no condemnation.
Mixing ingredients: A particular mix of ingredients is needed to make bread. In a similar way our own lives are made up of a number of parts or components that may change over time. These different ingredients perform a variety of functions in our life and faith and are blended together and react with each other in a way that makes up the ‘bread’ of our daily living.
What are the different ‘ingredients’ of your life at this time?
How well do the different parts and roles of your life mix together?
FLOUR: flour forms the plain filling ingredient of bread. It makes up the basic substance and provides the background that the rest of the ingredients are mixed into. What are the basic routines of your life just now- the non-negotiable responsibilities, the fixed points, the main substance of your daily routines and rhythms?
It may be helpful to write them into the ‘flour’ section of the image overleaf
YEAST: yeast is the ‘live’ ingredient that swells the bread and enables it to grow and expand. If this ‘live’ ingredient is too powerful it can swell the bread to unmanageable proportions! But equally if the yeast doesn’t provide enough ‘life’ the bread is flat and heavy. What are the ‘live’ aspects in your life at this time both for you as an individual and as a family member? What are the issues, questions, challenges and areas of development you and your children are experiencing at this time? Is there too much activity or not enough life and growth? Where and how are you enabled to grow? Make a note of these on the diagram below.
SUGAR: sugar brings a sweetness and an activation of the ingredients that enable us to grow. Along with salt it also provides flavour. Is there anything in your life just now that tastes good and sweet? What are the components of your present circumstances that you enjoy and are life-giving for you and your family?
WATER: water acts like glue, holding the bread ingredients together in a coherent whole. Without the water that holds and binds us we remain inert and unconnected and our potential is unrealised. Do you have a sense of the beliefs and values that hold your life together, that turn you from a set of components into a whole person? Perhaps also the ‘water’ that binds you together in family life? You may like to jot these down too on the image below.
Spend some time looking at the four ‘ingredients’. How much do you have of each ingredient? Is there too much or too little of one? Might there be a shift in balance as you move into the different stages of your faith journey and family life?
Ask the Holy Spirit for insight and wisdom to see how you might make a good mixture of the different areas of your life in this particular moment of your walk with God. You may wish to make a simple intention or commitment to shift the balance of ingredients.
Offer each ‘ingredient’ of your life in turn as you have measured and mixed them as an act of prayer and commitment to God.
Week 2 : Resting and Rising
For the ‘live’ ingredient to do its work it needs an activator. In bread making the yeast is often activated by the sugar. Once these components are brought together they then need space and time to rest and rise. We cover resting bread to protect it and it is often put in a dark place and left alone until the raising work is achieved.
In the life of Christ we see this rhythm of resting and rising. Jesus took himself off to quiet places to reconnect with the Father, the source and power of his earthly life and ministry. He observed (as well as challenged and reinterpreted) the rhythm of keeping the Sabbath. We see this pattern of resting and rising ultimately in his resting hidden in the tomb after his death and the rising to new life that we celebrate at Easter and on every ‘first day of the week’. In his rising we see in powerful form the activating work of the God as he brings resurrection and new life.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge Psalm 91
How might God be active in your life and circumstances, personally, within your family life and in the wider world? Do you keep any kind of ‘sabbath’ in your family life?
Think about your own daily and weekly routines. Are there any ‘resting’ places? Do you have a quiet hidden time of day or a place that you associate with rest and regeneration and prayerfulness?
Can you think of one simple action or intention you might make to preserve this empty space where apparently nothing useful happens and yet growth and rising is activated from within? Perhaps to stand still while the kettle boils and let the steam rising be a symbol of the prayers and desires of your heart being lifted to God.
What area of your life needs growth, regeneration and resurrection at this time?
Spend some time just resting in God’s presence. Perhaps last thing at night as you settle under the covers to sleep. Allow yourself to be hidden away covered in his deep knowledge and love of you. Try to rest without words and to be still in your mind and body. Let this be an act of trust that as you rest God’s rising work will be done.
Look back over this week. Have there been any times of resting? What made it possible to have that time and space to be ‘covered’? Are there ways you might ask for the help of your partner or friends or family to enable you to get regular time to rest?
Listen to the following song (Holy Overshadowing by Graham Kendrick) as you ask God both to give you rest and to lift your head to all He is doing in your life and in his world.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge Psalm 91
Week 3: Kneading and baking
The term used for kneading dough after it has rested and risen is ‘knocking back’. Here the bread is handled firmly to remove the air that has puffed it up. The bread is reworked to get the most out of the yeast or raising agent and to give the bread form, substance and elasticity. It is then reshaped in order that it can be rested once more in preparation for baking. Once all the work has been done we trust that the oven will do its work and transform our ingredients into good bread that will nourish and sustain us, and which can be offered to others.
‘…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasur’e. Philippians 2:12.13
When you think about your own life with God and the life of your children and wider family are you aware of ways in which you are being re-worked, ‘knocked back’ even?
Is there any sense that God is at work in this reshaping? If you are able, imagine that you are the bread that God is holding and working with and as you pray ask God’s Spirit to show you something of what he is creating and shaping in you.
Can you see a shape or pattern in the way God works with you?
You may also like to think and reflect more widely. How do you sense the world we are living in being shaped at this time?
What are the particular social, cultural and religious forces that are forming our world and our children?
How might we encourage our children to experience the way God wishes to hold and shape us for our good and in order that we can be a source of nourishment in the world? Offer your thoughts, reflections and questions to God.
‘…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure’. Philippians 2:12.13
NB : In preparation for next weeks reflections you might like to gather or buy the ingredients you need to make bread. If making bread is not practical for you then buy a loaf of bakery bread as a treat for the family.
Week 4: Breaking, Giving Thanks and Sharing
The purpose of making bread (both physically and metaphorically!) is to enjoy sharing and eating it together. In this final week of reflections we take our thinking and pondering out into daily practical action. Offer each days suggested action to God as an intentional act of prayerful reflection.
‘While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” ’
Broken: As you eat your bread together as a family, in the action of breaking, slicing or tearing the bread remember and pray for families across the world or known to you personally who are broken or torn apart in any way by the present circumstances.
Giving thanks: Before you eat your evening meal today give thanks to God for his presence and provision. If appropriate begin a ‘gratitude journal’ as a family and take it in turns to record one thing for which you are grateful each day as you eat together.
Sharing: If you are able to sit down to your evening meal together with members of your family. Switch off all devices and share the time and meal intentionally.
If you have enjoyed baking bread make a loaf and give it to a friend or neighbour. Alternatively you might share some flowers from your garden or another small gift with someone who is on their own just now. Another way to share might be to send someone a card to say you are thinking of them or share a family zoom meeting with another family you haven’t been able to see.
Share with a friend one thing you have rediscovered and one new thing you have learnt during lockdown and also one way they might pray for you.
Read back though these reflections and find one practice or insight that you wish to take forward. How might you practically ‘taste the benefits’ of this practice and insight? The following might be ways to take your intention into practice:
- share your intention with a trusted friend or spiritual director for some support or accountability
- write a note to remind yourself of this truth or practice and pin it up in the kitchen or bathroom or bedside table
- ask for help with household jobs or child care so that you can have some regular time to ‘rest and rise’ in prayer and time with God. Find a small way to do the same for your partner or a friend.
‘While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” ‘
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best
All that we need
waits for us
in the earth at our feet
we need only bow the knee each day
to pick it up.
So take and eat
until it walks the way of trust.
Gather this manna,
bending the knee
to touch the earth
a genuflection of gratitude
And on the seventh day
make sure you come to rest
under this arc
of promised provision.
For on this day
we offer the best
of the goodness we have collected
not hoarding or storing
but gladly giving thanks.
And on this day
we lift our bread
and breaking it in two
we dare to share
until all are fed.
THE END IS WHERE WE START FROM : REFLECTIONS FOR HOLY WEEK AND EASTER
As you scroll down here you will find ten days of reflections on the theme of the cross and resurrection. These reflections run from the Monday of Holy Week through to the Wednesday of Easter Week. Each day will explore an aspect or ‘fragment’ of the journey that Jesus and his followers made to the crucifixion and through the cross to the new life of the resurrection. For each of the ten days an image is offered with an accompanying piece of scripture, some questions for reflection and the suggestion of a form or way to pray. Our hope and prayer is that these may be helpful as we make the journey of Holy Week in the strange, bewildering, challenging and ultimately life changing times that we find ourselves in, here in the Spring of 2020 …
MONDAY OF HOLY WEEK
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
In this image the glowing gold of one cross contrasts with the rough wood and nails of the other. The two crosses touch …. they each point to the centre point of the other and share the same root. Yet they seem to be at odds with each other also. They seem to point in different directions. The gold cross stands strong and straight; the wooden cross seems bowed or pushed over.
Both the faces of the cross are valid. The divine glory and victory of the gold cross speaks of all that God accomplished in reaching out in relationship with us. The rough shame of the wooden cross speaks about the vulnerability and ugliness that is experienced in human suffering and evil. The gold cross is often the image we use in church worship. The wooden cross is perhaps the symbol we see in the world in Christ’s allegiance to the poor, the bowed down, the disenfranchised. The gold cross may reflect the attraction of the cross, the wooden cross may say more about its accessibility; the way it touches our lives.
We need the two crosses to stand in paradoxical tension. Foolishness and wisdom, an ending that is also a beginning as the passage in 1 Corinthians says. There is a kind of beauty in the wooden cross and the golden cross (on close inspection) is not complete; it too is broken in places. The divine glory of the cross is forever bound up in its rough humanity. The human immanence of the cross needs the transcendent hope. The power and purpose of the cross is both realised and hoped for…. its impact is felt in the here and now; it also points to what is still to come.
At this time we may be experiencing a similar paradoxical tension. All around us we are seeing signs of spring, fresh life after a long winter. The unfamiliar depth of the quiet in our surroundings means we may be hearing bird song, the natural world and even silence in new ways. For many there is a kind of stillness in our self isolation or social distancing ( of course for households with small children or where we are spending a lot more time at home with those we live with we may be experiencing all sorts of new tensions rather than stillness). The sun has been shining and yet we know in amongst these signs of new life, people across the world are sick and dying. The experience for those at home in this strange hush and tension is in sharp contrast to the danger, pain , busyness and fear that is being faced in overwhelming ways for many, especially our Health Service and care workers.
The cross is a symbol of paradox and tension, seemingly opposing directions (up/down and side/side). Christ on the cross somehow held in his own body and human experience this tension, he was stretched out in different directions… reaching for heaven from the agony of his earthly limitations…reaching for those that were dear to him from the isolation of his own pain and suffering. In ways it may be hard for us to understand, paradoxically he became a meeting point for these tensions.
- What tensions are you experiencing at this time? In what ways are you feeling at ‘cross purposes’ in your circumstances or relationships? Are there ways in which you feel pulled in different directions?
- How are we to hold these tensions? We might try sitting quietly with our two hands open on our lap, rather like the two bowls of a weighing scales. Hold the tensions you feel before God in prayer
- Can you find one practical way to reach out to someone whose current circumstances are very different to your own?
- It may be helpful to slowly make the sign of the cross touching your head, gut, arms and heart in turn, placing yourself in the presence of Christ of the Cross who re-members us, connecting us to himself as Centre.
Forgive us Lord
when we have domesticated your cross
and made it serve our own ends
Thank you for the many faces of the cross
that challenge us and comfort us
that both disturb our peace
and bring us hope
Help us to face both the suffering and the glory
Help us to live creatively
with the tensions of the cross and our present circumstances
May we see you stretching wide your arms
making yourself a meeting place
May we too be bridge builders
bearing witness to divine glory
in earths rough humanity
and carrying in prayer
the needs of a broken and fearful world
into the transforming, renewing heart of God
TUESDAY OF HOLY WEEK
Scripture : 1 Peter 2:22-25 Living Bible (TLB)
22 He never sinned, never told a lie, 23 never answered back when insulted; when he suffered he did not threaten to get even; he left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. 24 He personally carried the load of our sins in his own body when he died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on. For his wounds have healed ours! 25 Like sheep you wandered away from God, but now you have returned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls who keeps you safe from all attacks.
In a culture and time so far removed from that of Jesus of Nazareth, it can be difficult for us to feel the full impact of the crucifixion. The image of the cross has been presented in ‘pieces’ … small fragments of understanding or insight because we struggle to get hold of the whole. The small pieces of the ‘original’ cross that early Christians were thought to use as a focus for prayer (and which may have been the origin of the superstitious saying ‘touch wood’) may be a useful symbol for us today as we seek to connect with the real cross beyond the familiar and often tamed images.
One of the ways that the cross has become familiar and everyday for us is the way we use the word ‘cross’. The sign of the cross symbolises many things. We sign a kiss with a cross; we say that a cross marks the destination (or the treasure!) on a map. We speak of cross roads, crossing over, and crossing out. Perhaps even in these ordinary uses of the word there is fuel for reflection. The images used through these Holy Week and Easter reflections seek to explore some little pieces of meaning; fragments that form part of the whole.
The sharp blue-black texture of the background of this image represents the darkness of sin and suffering. Gold has traditionally been the colour used in art to represent the transcendent. Here the gold falls into the shape of the cross of Christ and his crown of thorns. The message of Christ’s suffering is that even in the darkness of sin, suffering, fear and death, He is present. Sin and separation from God can be ‘crossed out’, forgiven. The hope of the cross is that God is present, He can bring light and healing and transformation even amongst the sharp thorns of pain. He does this by living with us in the hidden depths of the human condition.
- Are there areas of your own life that you would like to bring out of the shadows and into the light of God’s forgiveness?
- Are there ways that other people have wronged you that you might now be ready to cross out and to begin the process of forgiving them?
- Make the sign of the cross on your forehead; the kiss of God’s forgiveness
Lord of the cross
we offer you
our fragmented unfinished understanding
of what happened on the cross of Calvary
We want to experience the hope of the cross
in the world’s need at this time
We long to see its power crossing out the evil and fear around us
We need to see your shining forgiving presence in the dark recesses of our own souls
Your cross marks the spot
the place where humankind meets God
Here light shines in the dark
and the darkness has not overcome it.
WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK
‘End of the road’
Scripture: Mark 14:53-72
This painting reflects on Peter’s denial of Jesus and his spiritual death which parallels Jesus physical death. The simplicity of the composition reflects the way in which (through his being questioned and his denials of his association with Jesus) Peter was stripped right back to the core of himself. Peter repeats again and again ‘I don’t know this man’. He also denies his own identity as a follower of Jesus; ‘I am not he’ he says. Meanwhile Jesus in comparison is quietly affirming his own identity as God’s Son as he stands trial in the High Priest’s house ; ‘I am he’ he says.
It is the dead of night and at the point Peter goes through his spiritual death of denial, the cock crows. The cockerel should have been a hopeful sign promising the coming of the dawn and the light of a new day. Sometimes for us, like Peter, when we are going through spiritual darkness, the things that should bring encouragement and faith are the very things that mock us. We may feel we have fallen down deep into a crack in the earth’s surface and are spiralling into the depths of darkness. Or we may feel buried in spiritual apathy. Like grains of wheat fallen into the earth to die.
In this state the person of Jesus can seem very far away, unobtainable, on some distant horizon. And yet this downward spiral into the shadowy place is also the road that links us to the cross. The dark road forces us to look upwards, to see the gold doorway beyond the cross on the horizon. It gives us something to fix our gaze upon as slowly we grow…. like a small seed out of the earth. And in time the fruit that may emerge out of our own spiritual death-to-self finds it is an echo of the blossom and fruit of the tree of the cross.
- At the present time we are hearing and seeing about death and dying in so many different ways. There are the daily counts of those losing their lives in this pandemic. As well as physical death we know that many are watching the death throes of their livelihoods. Some people are having to lay to rest their plans for weddings, parties and other celebrations of significant life events. Many young people have experienced the termination of their school life and exams and hopes for their future study or careers. The economic impact of our present circumstances will result in painful and protracted loss for many people across the world, possibly for many years to come.
- Are there particular areas of loss that seem close to you just now? Have you been surprised also by any new shoots of life that have come to you at this this time? Ask that God would bring to life and fruition the seeds that have fallen and been lost in the dark earth of present circumstances.
- Loss of contact with friends and family or support services can be a serious loss for some people and those with mental health issues. Pray for those who are plunged into depression and anxiety at this time.
I will stay present in the darkness.
I will seek the strength to stay with Jesus.
I will try to turn my gaze
from my pain
and the pain of the world
onto the Christ
who fell under the weight
of our darkness.
I will look at him
even though he scandalises me
as much as he inspires me
I will gaze up at him
even if he seems a stranger to me
in this half light
I may no longer be sure who I am
but I choose to trust
that I am held and carried
in the love of God;
as the grain of wheat is held and carried
in the wet earth
This stranger God
has stayed beside me
in the dark
as he is with me in the light
And he has called me his child.
That is who I am
He is both Love dying
and hope risen.
THURSDAY OF HOLY WEEK (MAUNDY THURSDAY)
SCRIPTURE John 13: 1-17, 31-35
The events of our Lord’s life that we remember tonight are both rich with meaning and full of mysterious symbolism. They are open to all sorts of theological debates and interpretations. Fascinating and necessary though these theological explorations might be, it seems that the really important thing is for us to enter into the story ourselves and become part of it, letting the story live in us as we try to live in it.
Jesus invites us into the story, asking us, like the first disciples to wait in different ways and it is with this theme of waiting that we can reflect on the story on this Maundy Thursday.
The first way that the disciples are asked to wait is described in the first verses of the gospel reading. Here they (and we) are invited to ‘be waited on’. Jesus demonstrates this ‘waiting on’ as he washes his friends feet. Jesus action of practical service and care required a willingness on the part of the disciples to be still enough to receive this cleansing and refreshing act. Except of course Peter couldn’t sit still with it, he couldn’t deal with things being so upside down. It was too uncomfortable to make a ‘U’ turn in his thinking and in the order of the universe. It would take a kind of conversion, literally a turning around of attitude to deal with this action of Jesus.
Most of us can relate to Peter’s indignation with Jesus as he offers to wash his feet. There is something almost indecent about it….it’s too intimate an act…God shouldn’t really be grubbing about at our feet….who knows what our bare feet might reveal about ourselves. While hands can be public, beautiful and expressive, many of us feel that feet should be kept private. They hold the potential to share too many secrets about how we carry ourselves through life….whether we’re thorough about washing and whether we’ve followed our mother’s advice and worn sensible shoes. We may never understood what makes people want to be chiropodists but we can greatly admire them!
Foot washing required of the disciples a willingness to have their sandals removed, to untie the rags that served to protect their feet. It required an acceptance of being uncovered in some way. It is a powerful prefigurement of how Jesus would be uncovered, physically stripped, exposed through his trial and execution. Here he is choosing to willingly take off his outer garment to meet the ordinary needs of his friends after their dusty walk.
The scriptures are full of references to being covered and uncovered…there are swaddling clothes and grave-cloths….the covering of a mother hen’s wings, and the ‘covering over’ of the Passover….the uncovering of the holy of holies at the tearing of the temple curtain and the uncovering of the empty tomb. Perhaps as Jesus waits on his friends, uncovering their feet to make them clean, he is showing that he can also cover them in his healing grace and righteousness. That can happen when we allow ourselves to be waited on.
This ‘waiting on’ required a willingness to receive. The humility, the repentance, the turning around and upturning of all normal concepts of power and authority that it asked for, was total. Nothing could be added to it…not even Peter’s offer of his hands and head to be washed was needed. It was a complete uncovering and then recovering in grace that was being offered. It is really hard to receive this from Jesus. If he had said ‘since I have washed your feet you are now important enough to wash mine’ then we would be fighting to be first with the basin and towel. Then the old order of pre-eminence would end up being restored, thinly disguised under the name of service. But Jesus subverts the vertical hierarchy and makes it horizontal. Jesus says ‘wash one another’s feet’…it up/downturns and replaces all the normal patterns of authority. We are unnerved by this even in the church. As priests and ministers we struggle with all sorts of mixed messages about vision and leadership, while still being called to be the servant of God and the people. A hierarchy of exposure, vulnerability and service that only goes in one direction may be all too seductive, wherever we find ourselves in that pecking order!
But Jesus is pointing to something quite different, it isn’t a one way street of servanthood. We are called to wait on one another; to be servants of one another. We are bound to one another in reciprocal obligation, priest and people, people and priests. There isn’t an option to just to ‘wait on’ anymore than there is an option to just be ‘waited on’. It is mutual love, mutual vulnerability, a mutual offering of those grubby, tired even embarrassing parts of ourselves. Then we can say ‘Oh yes! my feet are like that too,… and I thought I was the only one with feet like that’.
And as we receive the loving service of each other we can receive the waiting on, the cleansing, uncovering and re-covering, refreshing and honouring grace of God. So to wait on and be waited on in service is the first waiting in this story.
The second kind of waiting the disciples are invited into is a waiting for. Jesus asks them to wait to be reunited with the glorified Christ. Jesus says ‘Little children I am with you only a while longer…you will look for me but where I am going you cannot follow now but you will follow me afterward’. This is the ‘waiting for’ of faith… the looking for Christ….looking for his presence in the world….looking for his face in the crowd…his image in one another. It’s the ‘waiting for’ that calls us to intercede for the world, to live out the values of the Kingdom, to work for justice and peace and an end to oppression. It’s a wait to understand God’s purposes in the world, it is a waiting to have our eyes fully opened to see God both here and now and in the not yet and longed for Kingdom of Heaven.
We wait on, we wait for and finally we are asked to ‘wait with’. This takes us into the story that unfolds beyond the Last Supper into the agony of the garden. The watch of the Passion which takes us on deeper and deeper into the story through this night and into the drama of Good Friday. Through all this Jesus asks us if we will wait with him. It is the wait of compassion…literally to be with …in passion. It is a decision to stay close to Jesus when everything in us wants to run….to run away from the emotion, to run from being faced so squarely with our failings and our fear of being uncovered, to run away from our impotence in the face of suffering…to slip off and not stay with our indifference or apathy…. to hide from this troubled emotive figure who chooses to serve us in such awful vulnerability.
There will be so many reasons to hide, to stay covered up, to run away or fall asleep, to busy ourselves in his service even. There are always so many reasons to do anything but what he asks: which is simply to be with him….to wait in the story as it unfolds… to stay close quietly… to feel with…. to offer him our company…. to wait … to wait with him.
And so on this Maundy Thursday
We wait on and are waited on in service,
We wait for in faith, looking for God’s presence, praying for his coming
and we wait with in compassion.
Our glorified Lord is washing our feet…. the King of the universe is weeping in a dark garden… and he has need of us.
And so we will wait.
- In what ways are you needing or choosing to wait just now?
- Are there ways that you are waiting on others or being waited on? Which is easier for you?
- What do you find yourself waiting for at this time?
- Who is waiting with you at this time and who are you waiting with?
- We are conscious at this time of the need to wash our hands regularly and thoroughly. You might like to be intentional about using the few minutes each time you wash your hands to pray….perhaps to say the Lord’s prayer or to pray for family or friends.
- You might like to pray with a small bowl in your hands. Perhaps write the names of people you are concerned for on small pieces of papers and offer them to God in this prayer bowl. Or simply pray with the empty bowl as a way to wait on and wait with Christ.
Lord, you have made us like bowls, our bodies created as carrying places. Filling and holding and emptying, breath after breath. We are hollowed out, hallowed space. Form us into bowls that have room to listen to you and to one another. Make us into bowls offered in hospitality of the home and heart. You alone Lord, know what we are carrying, containing, keeping safe. You know what we long to receive, You know what we keep holding, You know what we are ready to offer. As we hold one another, You hold us.
FRIDAY OF HOLY WEEK (GOOD FRIDAY)
SCRIPTURE : Read Matthew 27: 32-56
This painting seeks to express something of the moment of Jesus death; both its finality and its hope.The sun is darkened and bears the mark of the cross …. no part of of the created world is unaffected by the terror and triumph of Christ at Calvary. The curtain is torn revealing a mysterious space; the place where God dwells is now accessible but it is an awesome place; the holy of holies. Dare we enter in and risk getting lost in this Presence? Dare we trust ourselves to this God who is so full of mystery and yet (at such cost to himself) is revealing his purpose. Tearing down the barriers and calling us into deeper relationship with himself…
Gold indicates the transcendent presence of God. In this image He is present in the figure of Jesus. This figure can be seen in different ways. We may see Christ as actively tearing open the curtain, a stance of great authority. Or we may see him as utterly vulnerable and small; slipping from the cross in death and falling into the earth’s darkness below. Perhaps these are both ‘fragments’, pieces of understanding of the cross of Jesus. The gold shines at the edge of the torn curtain … right at the heart of the painful tear, God is.
Spend some time today with this image and the following prayers:
God of mysterious darkness
and revealed light
you have opened your very self
that we might come to dwell in the holy of holies
You have slid to the depths of human suffering
in order that no experience of ours
You are with us
in the torn places of our lives
your loving healing presence
is light in our darkness
Where the world is ripped apart
loss and fear
and by a global pandemic
You are present
in the tear
and in the tears
We offer to you
our shattered hurting world
We give you
our broken incomplete selves
As you were torn
mend us and make us whole we pray
when the world condemns us, when wrong is done to us, when we carry the weight of things that are too much to forgive, come alongside us in the darkness, and give us the grace to be forgiven and forgiving.
we are weighed down by sin and separation, a world that is not at peace, people who are not whole. You reached out to the thief, you welcomed him to God’s side. Come alongside us in the darkness, and bring grace and peace to everything that is broken.
we carry the weight of the people we love, concern for their sorrows and suffering. Our care for them is deep, and sometimes there is not much we can do. Come alongside us in the darkness, and cradle the ones we love in your strong hands.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you know what it is to feel that God is far away. You know what it is to call out for God’s presence. Come alongside us in the darkness, and help us call out for God.
even in death, you are there. When we mourn, when we are afraid, when we come to our own end, you have been there, too. Come alongside us in the darkness. Carry us even through death to life.
SATURDAY OF HOLY WEEK (HOLY SATURDAY)
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 2: 4-7, Matthew 27: 48-50, 57-66
Today is a day of waiting, the still-nothingness of a lifeless body wrapped in grave-clothes and laid in a tomb. Jesus has ‘breathed his last and offered up his spirit’. Breath is life, with breath comes life, energy, agency as described in the creation story in Genesis 2. God’s breathe deep in our make-up, filling every cell. Holy Saturday is like the pause between breaths. That moment when there is a stillness, a gap… we have finished breathing out and there is the smallest space before we take the next breath in. Jesus had given up his last life breath (literally ‘expired’) and all creation holds its breath, held in that gap between death and the uncertainty that a new ‘inspiration’ could come. Waiting, still in the holding place of the sealed tomb.
In this strange season that we find ourselves in we may have the sense of holding our breath. Certainly as a country there is a sense of waiting to see how this tomb of lockdown will impact the course of a disease that has stolen the breath of many already and threatens the ease of breathing for many more. Our Health Service holds its breath. We personally may even have had a sense of not quite letting ourselves breath properly when we are out, needing to buy food or collect necessities…. fearful perhaps of what our breath might hold for others, and theirs for us….no breathing on others, no being breathed upon.
And yet in our faith tradition breath is core to our life and being. God breathed on his creatures and they received life. It has been said that the only consonants in the Hebrew alphabet that are not articulated with lips and tongue are YHVH which becomes Yahweh as Christians pronounce and spell it. YHVH is literally (and in humility before God who is source and sustainer of life) an unspeakable name. These consonants are BREATHED rather than spoken as a word, with the tongue relaxed and lips apart. The sound of these consonants is that of the breath, the breath in and the breath out. And so it is possible that our life breath can become the simplest of prayers , breathing in and out the name of God. Every moment of our lives we can consciously or unconsciously be speaking the name of God. ‘I will praise the Lord while I have breath’ says the psalmist. Our first and last word and breath as we enter and leave this world, is God. The name of God is life. In us and through us to others. This is breath we CAN share.
- As we wait in the pause between breaths, between the last breath of Jesus death and the first breath of resurrection life, you may like to just sit quietly with your breath, as a prayer.
- You might use a simple phrase as an anchor and rhythm for this: ‘God is here’ (on the in breath) and ‘I am here’ (on the out breath).
- Breath deeply…. there is nothing to do but let your breath be held by God and be held in God’s breath.
- The painting above has repeated though it the symbol of infinity (like a figure of eight laying on its side). Find yourself, allow yourself to be found in this rhythm of breath, the giving and receiving of life breath with God.
God’s Breath in man returning to his birth
kissed out of sleep
eyes close and open
sighing and waking
at your naming
an infinity of breath
taken and given back
Amen, may it be so
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 16: 13-28, John 20: 1-9, 21: 1-14
This painting explores the material world, the matter and the visual pictures and symbols of the resurrection. It shows a doorway, a kind of portal between heaven and earth, like the threshold of the tomb now empty. The person standing at the doorway of light can be seen in different ways. Perhaps the figure represents us standing looking into the empty tomb and seeing the evidence of resurrection. Around the opening are hints of angel wings, or perhaps an echo of the torn curtain of the temple. There are also the white linen grave clothes falling away and folding into the empty shape of an absence. The figure might also be the angel at the door of the tomb telling the disciples that Christ’s absence speaks of his presence in a new way: ‘He is not here… He is risen’. Perhaps the figure might also be the shadow of Jesus, poised in this liminal space, calling us to follow him into the light of a new life.
There is an earthiness about this scene. There is the simple domesticity of an open fire and fish. The shape of a boat can be seen in the archway of light. If we see the figure here as Peter then the painting creates the scene of his spiritual birth described in Matthew 16:13-28. In this gospel account Peter recognises Jesus as the Christ, the kingly Messiah. It’s as if the veil between heaven and earth is momentarily drawn back and he stands at the opening of a deeper encounter with Jesus. His faith springs up, like the source of the river Jordan emerging there at Caesarea Philippi. Peter’s spiritual birth was rooted in a time, a place, a culture. It was earthed in the reality of his circumstances. Here in the human world of fishing and boats and the parochial locality of 1st century Palestine, Peter receives the revelation of the Divine.
Peter was alive in his Jewish faith but it’s as if at this moment grave clothes fall away and (like Lazarus emerging from the tomb) Peter comes out into the sunshine of new life. And yet even here at the moment of spiritual birth, Jesus says that his kingly Messiahship is to walk the way of the cross. And Peter so soon after his declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God finds himself turning away from the light of this revelation and denying that he even knows Jesus. It is out of the shadows of this denial of his friendship with Jesus that Peter steps into the resurrection light as he shares the breakfast on the beach that Jesus offers. And as he comes close to Jesus again he is reinstated into a relationship of love, a spiritual rebirth which has been deepened, shaped and intensified by the dark night of his own soul and the deep shadow of the cross of Jesus. In the painting the cross shape is depicted in an earth colour…. it is the soil out of which the spiritual grows. The crown of gold is present too but beneath it are the nails. Spiritual rebirth and life are inextricably linked to the cross.
- Are you aware of any earthy and material signs of new life and rebirth around you on this Easter day? How do these signs speak particularly to you at this time?
- Do you find yourself on any thresholds at this point in your life? What might you be being called into? Is something new being born in you through this strange new reality we find ourselves in?
- How are you personally (and how might we as a church, and even a nation?) be experiencing the tension of the glorious light of the resurrection and the shadow that falls from the cross?
- In your imagination you might like to prayerfully stand at the threshold in this painting. What do you see ? and what does the resurrected Jesus say to you as he meets you there?
out of your timelessness
you have broken into my small moment
and sung my sluggish spirit
Open my eyes and ears to be aware
when I have stumbled upon you in the world
in unexpected people and places.
Help me to recognise
the torn places in the veil of circumstance
where you have reached in
to touch my life with grace
You can invade both pain and pleasure
with your Presence
Yours is an awesome purity
yet hidden in the ordinary, earthy matters of our lives.
beyond time and space
becomes small enough to meet us in a taste of bread and a sip of wine
so that we might know you in brokeness
You have met us in your Son
and we have begun the journey home.
MONDAY OF EASTER WEEK
‘Signs for Thomas: seeing is believing’
SCRIPTURE: John 20:19-25
The drawings for today and tomorrow seek to say something of the kindness of the risen Christ in his dealings with the disciples. He does not condemn them in their struggle for faith in the midst of doubt and fear and uncertainty. He meets them where they are and shows them what they need to see in order to KNOW that this risen glorious Lord is still THEIR companion and leader, a companion and leader they can believe in. The risen Jesus transforms the ordinary into signs of the extraordinary. Earthy tangible matter takes on an eternal significance. Hands feet, nail-prints, folded grave-clothes, broken bread and fish for breakfast on the beach are the solid facts which call the disciples to risky faith and lives that will, from that moment, be turned upside down.
In this image we remember Thomas and his struggle to believe in the risen Christ. He wants evidence. Perhaps there’s a belligerence in his response to the witness of the other disciples….’unless I see, I will not believe!’ Jesus responds to Thomas in his honesty and humanity. He opens his hands to him…. not just to see but to touch. Not just for the other disciples but for Thomas himself. Christ meets him in his doubt and gives him the evidence he requests. But Jesus also calls him to keep moving in his journey of faith. The challenge is to take hold of the hand that is offered to him and to walk in faith because the time would be coming when faith would no longer be based on sight in this way. Thomas is called to use all the belligerent energy of his doubt to make the costly choice of faith and commitment. Christ holds nothing back, hides nothing. All has been given on the cross. All is now offered to Thomas in the opening of his scarred hands. In return Christ calls Thomas to put down his doubt and reach out to touch the risen Christ with the empty hands of faith.
- Where do you struggle to believe?
- What do you need to ‘see for yourself’ in your life with God?
- Psalm 27 is a declaration of faith in God in the midst of trouble. The psalmist insists he will see evidence of God right here and now in the material world, ‘in the land of the living’. Use this Psalm as a prayer
Thank you Lord
that when faith and doubt
wage war within me
you are willing to meet me where I am
and walk with me.
Even when doubt wins
and I don’t recognise that I am on an Emmaus road
I believe you never stop trying to get through
I want to see you Lord
I need to know you are still at large
If I reach out
will I touch your side and wounded hands
in the worlds suffering?
And, if I ask
may I know your risen life
in the most human of joys?
Here are my open hands
Take these strong belligerent doubts
Take my wounded struggling belief
Help me to keep walking
TUESDAY OF EASTER WEEK
‘Signs for Thomas: My Lord and my God’
SCRIPTURE : John 20: 24-30
The image above speaks of Thomas’ response to the risen Christ who has met him in his struggle to believe. The clasped hands held in this way can be seen in two ways: the scarred hand of Jesus reaches down in a gesture of support, lifting Thomas up in his need for a sign of the resurrection. But also the image can be seen as Thomas making the choice to place his hand in Christ’s as a gesture of agreement. We shake hands to seal a deal or commitment; to give our word and will to something, or someone.
This is Thomas’ decision to declare his allegiance to Jesus again, now as the resurrected Christ. ‘You are MY Lord, MY God’ he says. It is his choice to give himself to faith, to walk in trust even when there is no rational evidence to back it up, to become one of the blessed who ‘do not see and yet still believe’. It is the conviction of this moment of encounter with Christ that sends him to his knees in loving response.
Reflection and prayer
- At a time when we are unable to meet together for prayer and worship we are particularly aware of our need to support one another in our faith. We need the faith of our church communities locally and across the world to carry us when our personal faith feels weak.
- As a declaration of your faith and the faith of the church you might like to say the words of the Creed or use the following words from the song ‘This I believe (The Creed)’ by Hillsong
I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus
If you are able you might like to stand and sing (or even dance!) along :
WEDNESDAY OF EASTER WEEK
SCRIPTURE: Read the following verses from John 20 and Colossians 3
John 20 The Message (MSG)
19-20 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Colossians 3 The Message (MSG)
He Is Your Life
3 1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.
3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offence. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
This painting shifts us from the historical accounts of the resurrection in the gospels (and its impact in the personal lives of the disciples) to the more universal symbols of leaves and water. We are reminded of the natural world with its cycles of birth, death and rebirth. The three leaves represent the fellowship of the Godhead (a faint echo of the three figures in Rublev’s icon of the Trinity). The gold leaf represents the Father’s transcendence, the green leaf speaks of the life-giving Holy Spirit and the red/purple leaf connects us with Christ as suffering King. The red leaf bears the wounds of the nails. As God in Jesus has gone through the waters of baptism as a human being, he has entered our world and has felt and carried our pain and our joys. He does not leave the pain behind but carries it into the heart of God, where it is held. The crown of thorns surrounding the Trinity has been broken open, the power of pain is broken and the heart of God is revealed. The door of spiritual rebirth is open; we are invited in, to be caught up in this circle dance of love that is God.
Even as God has revealed himself to us, he also remains outside time and place as well and we see his true glory only dimly (symbolised by the darker background to the three leaves). But this mysterious revelation of God’s love in Jesus so invades and motivates us that we go out into the world to serve him. We die to self, losing ourselves, our egos, in the mystery of God. And in so doing are raised to new life in Christ (through the blue cross of baptismal waters). We receive the life giving breath of God once again. The breath of the Spirit invades our lungs and gives new energy, renewed life to live in God’s world in a new way. God breathes in us and through us to share his life with all people and the created world. In this process of self offering and service we receive the gift of true personhood (our life is hid with Christ in God).
The blue cross also represents the path of the journey of faith and life. It is a path that takes us to unexpected and unexplored places. This path or spring of life-giving water can sometimes disappear underground. We may fear it is lost forever when we go through periods of dryness, spiritual doubt or questioning. But the God who is the source of our lives is also its sustainer. We work it out in the ordinary daily following the way of Jesus, not always obviously or consciously. But underground streams can emerge again and we can find ourselves unexpectedly romanced by hope.
The soul that has sat in Good Friday’s despair, that has held its breath in the tomb of Holy Saturday is the soul that can also rise with the Son on Easter morning.
We may have lost one kind of beauty on our journey through the cycles of death and rebirth but we may begin to bear the scars of Christ’s. We are marked now as his. As people of the resurrection.
- What might it look like (practically!) to live as people of the resurrection?
- How might we be aqua-ducts rather than reservoirs of God’s life and love ?
- Are there some simple ways that we might breathe love, peace and hope into our relationships, our places of work, our communities of faith and our neighbourhoods …. even at this time of social distancing and isolation?
- Can you think of one way you might inhabit (literally make a habit of) the instructions for living in the Colossians verses above? The prayer below may be a place to start … a way to be prayerful and intentional as you dress in the morning….
I asked my Lord: ‘How can I live for you today?’
And He said: ‘Dearly loved, take the shirt of my compassion. Wear it close against your heart that you may love, and lose, and hurting, heal and love again, as I have done. And over all wear love.’
I asked again: ‘How can I serve you?’
And He replied: ‘Wear kindness on your hands like gloves and do good, unseen things for others. Remember too, my hands were pierced. And take gentleness as shoes that you might tread with quiet feet upon the hopes and dreams that weave like secret paths within another’s life. And over all wear love.’
I asked my Lord: ‘How can I be like you today?’
He touched and filled me and explained: ‘Wear a tunic of humility woven on the warp that it is I who makes you holy, shot through with the weft of knowing you are proud. And tie a belt of patience round your waist that you may be held firm when others fail to see the princely robes in which I clothe you. And over this wear love.’
Once more I asked a question and smiling He replied: ‘I am your coat of love. Gather me around you. Take me too into your day.’
And over all was Love.
A final prayer
Lord of life death and rebirth You are independent of us You are vulnerable to us You are complete; dancing to your own music
And yet you invite us to live in community with you and to walk with you into the world You are full of thoughts of your own and yet you have opened yourself to us in all tenderness
All wells of sadness meet in you all fountains of bliss spring from you You are a laughing God, a crying God You are unmapped territory joy for love’s explorers Solid as rock as elusive as a full fed river we shall explore you forever and surprise shall be the pulse of love
You are ours but we will never own you In your love we are reborn in your love the world has hope
You are OUR God You are MY God this day and always
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU IN HIS LOVE AS YOU LIVE HIS RESURRECTION LIFE
The text, prayers, poems and images above have been written and painted by Bridget Macaulay. A number of the images are available as A5 postcards from Bridget’s website here:
The inspiration for some of these images and ideas has come from David Runcorn’s book ‘Touch Wood’ DLT 1992
You are most welcome to print out parts of these reflections for your own personal use but we would ask that if you wish to use any of the material for group use you would acknowledge its source and perhaps you might consider making a donation to our work via the support page of this website here: http://vesseltrust.org.uk/support/ Many thanks!
If you have any comments , responses or queries please do get in touch via the contact page here: http://vesseltrust.org.uk/contact/
The Holy Here
On a wet day in Lutton Place
I hear the door to the close swing shut
and school shoes scuffing up the stone steps.
The girls are home
falling through the flat door.
I shout from the kitchen as I wash my hands
“Take your dirty shoes off before you come in”
My days drip like the rain
gathering somewhere in a vast reservoir of routine.
So why today? why today
should I come out to greet them
and find them standing straight as willows
breathless from the stairs
ablaze but not consumed
Today I notice the scatter of shoes on the dry ground of our hall
the insight like a sabbath.
A Presence has invaded the house.
The dining table is a wasteland of homework books
and half empty lunch-boxes
There’s a crease in the carpet of our life
as if the earth beneath our feet
has shifted its focus
and turning aside
the fire is everywhere:
burnt fingers from sibling squabbles,
damp feet peeled pink from wet socks,
the vase on the dining table
a vessel of red wine pussy willow,
and orange tulips
dropping their wide open petals
like scorch marks on the edges of my attention,
smoke signals until I wholly hear.
Here in the hall, the girls home from school
I see flames
in the holy here.
Image and poem by Bridget Macaulay