It’s over a year since we were together on a Sunday morning. And things have changed. Back in February 2020 COVID was a threat that seemed to be creeping closer. In fact it was already here. As a result, we’ve become dislocated – literally. Me in my small corner and you in yours! But some things have felt the same wherever we are. Let’s start with a poem:
The stars and the dirt
We live between the stars and the dirt;
A little of both sticks to us.
On our best days, we share the sky’s reflected light,
Sparkle, dance and embrace all that life can mean.
But we also stand in the dust of this world
And some of it stays with us.
How could it not?
Tiny grains of doubt come between us and those we love.
We trudge through the mud of work we never thought would fall to us.
Sometimes the weight of everything absorbs our uncertain strength,
Makes us feel the light has gone out.
But we live between the dirt and the stars
So, however long the clouds linger,
We know that one evening soon the stars will light the heavens
And we will turn to dance again
Let us pray
Whose power is beyond our imaginings,
Whose breath gives life to all that is beautiful,
Root in our hearts a love for you
And nurture it, we pray, so that it grows into a love for the whole of your creation,
Help us to see all that is wonderful
And reject the lure of anything which might cause damage to that wonder.
These have been tough times, Lord,
So help us, now especially, to hold on to all that is good.
Through Jesus Christ, your son,
For whom every day and every person is special.
We remember the prayer you taught your first followers and say it now:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;……….Amen
We’ve lived apart and slowly we are beginning to come back together. That’s great but the last 12 months have had their positive moments too. When things are different, it affects your perspective. That can simply make you cranky and strange but it can also help you to see things you’ve missed. In this period after Easter, I often think over what happened in that final week of Christ’s life and whether I’ve missed something. I guessed the first disciples did just the same as they waited for the next chapter after Jesus left them. Last year I was wondering a little about what the men made of those women who followed Jesus because, as Mark tells us, there were many of them. Mark 15, 40-41 record this about the crucifixion:
40 Some women were there, looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 They had followed Jesus while he was in Galilee and had helped him. Many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him were there also.
This is how I imagined one of the disciples’ view of the women in the team and in particular, Mary Magdalene. Let’s look at this then through Bartholomew’s eyes.
A disciple speaks
People forget quite how it was with Jesus. They turn us into a men-only group, assume there were just the twelve of us. That was true on some days but he had far more followers than us few and they weren’t all men. Joanna, Susannah, both Marys and Salome were often with us. Many more sometimes, mainly from Galilee.
More often than not, they were the ones that kept the wheels turning. They were a real presence, too. Especially Mary Magdala. Not just because she was young and taller than most of us but because she saw the need for Jesus. Some of us had days when we just enjoyed the status. With Mary, you could see how she always loved being with him.
I’ve learnt almost nothing about her family across the years so I suspect it wasn’t easy at home. It often felt to me as if she’d been looking for a place to belong and felt this might be it.
I say might be because there always seemed to be an element of doubt with her. Not about faith in him but about whether she was good enough. As if she was thrilled that she’d been allowed in but wasn’t sure she’d be permitted to stay.
Jesus spent time with her, gave her a special position among us if you like. He knew her need more than any of us.
When she returned from the garden that Sunday morning, we didn’t believe what she was telling us. Dead men don’t come back however much you want them to. But then dead men don’t eat fish either. When I saw that with my own eyes in the Upper Room even I believed that the impossible had happened.
And the next day I asked Mary to tell me again about what he had said in the garden.
She talked about him calling her by name, about Galilee and about returning to ‘my Father and your Father, my God and Your God.’
I’d heard what she’d said before but I realised then that I’d missed something. I had to check: ‘He didn’t say Our Father or Our God then?’
Mary shook her head: ‘No, it was my and your. I couldn’t forget because he was staring straight at me as if it mattered that I got it right.’
‘You know what he was saying to you?’
She looked uncertain, shook her head.
‘God is as much your Father as he is his Father. You’re part of the family in the same way as Jesus is!’
Her eyes opened wide and she smiled in amazement.
‘Yes, you Mary.’
‘But you’re included, too.’
‘Absolutely. That’s why he said it like he did. He wanted us to remember that we belong and we will always belong.’
She gave me a great big hug as only Mary could: ‘It can’t be taken away from me, can it?’
‘Never … and there are two things that make it even better. Firstly, you were the first person he said it to. But, even more importantly you remembered to tell all of us. Think what we’d have missed if you hadn’t been listening!’
Let us pray
Lord Jesus, we often believe we are not good enough, that the faith of other people is greater and better than ours. We are only too aware of our shortcomings and not confident enough of your forgiveness when we fail you yet again.
Forgive not only the bad and unkind things we do to others but also the bad and unkind things we do to ourselves. Give us the perspective we need to see the world as you did. Make us know that we are truly loved, that God cherishes us just as much as he cherishes you, that we are one family.
May we hold that thought in our mind and heart so that everything we say and do to others will show we remember how God loves them too. Amen
Of course, it’s not just a sense of shortcomings that damage some people, there’s also that pernicious desire to do it all yourself. It’s particularly peculiar to find this kind of behaviour in church where every single denomination emphasises our dependence on God and each other. But I guess it’s a very strong urge in humans.
My friend, the gospel singer and harp maker, Allan Shiers, found himself locked away in his mill by the stream in deepest West Wales. It gave him plenty of time for songwriting. And as he’s a multi-instrumentalist with a small studio in the top of the mill, he looked fairly self-sufficient. But Allan soon found the limits of this which encouraged him to link up with a pianist down Swansea way, a string quartet in Cardiff and a saxophone player somewhere in Europe!
You’d have thought that would be enough but he also got stuck for a lyric on an upbeat tune. All he knew was that he wanted something about sunshine on dark days … and nothing too heavy! So he sent me a rough version with hundreds of la-las. It’s not as easy as you think to turn la-las into lyrics but we eventually got something we thought worked. And if the technology obliges, we’ll listen to it as a happy break from my voice!
Song: Hold the hope
So, in spite of the fact that you can make music on your own, most of the time you’re better if you make it together even if the link has to be made via files across the miles on the world wide web. And in spite of all the gloom in the world, Allan is right – we do need the sunshine. So when Paul writes in troubled times to the church at Philippi, he makes clear what they should concentrate on even in their troubles.
Reading Philippians, chapter 4
4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
5 Let your moderation be known unto all. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.
7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
That’s the King James version and somehow the modern versions don’t quite get the poetry. It’s more relevant than ever these days. We live in a culture where whatever things are dishonest, whatever things are crooked, whatever things might shock, appal or horrify us are often given top billing. In this lockdown, that emphasis has damaged some people’s mental health. Huw Edwards has complained for a generation about how unbalanced our news can be. And he should know. But it’s not just the news; we seem to live in a society with a predilection for the negative. Paul is telling us that it doesn’t have to be like that.
So, as we come to our prayers for others, let’s keep that in mind. After each sentence or two, I’ll leave a moment of silence to let you name in your heart those people and situations which come to mind for you.
Let us pray:
We start by giving thanks for all the good news that never makes the news. We thank you not only for the people whose job it is to care but for the care that people have offered each one of us in dozens of ways over this year. Silence
We think also of those who are more aware of their weaknesses and failures than they are about what they have to give. Help them to understand they are important. We remember them now. Silence
We think of those we love who we cannot hug even though we want to, those who have missed physical contact desperately. Fold your arms around them, Lord, until we are again allowed to do that small service ourselves. Silence
We pray for those parts of the world that are suffering especially at this time. We are grateful that people are beginning to think and act internationally but we know there is so much more to be done. We remember the people of India this week and also those other places where the suffering is not yet getting the attention it needs. Silence
We think of those who have passed away this year and especially those who have had to grieve alone. As restrictions ease, make us the people who do our best to stay in contact. Silence
Lord, you see each place and person we have been thinking about but you also see much more. So we trust you to care for those who we will never know as much as those who are closest to our hearts. And we long for a day when, across the world, we may hold each other’s hands again and know we are one people.
Through Jesus Christ who made the unlovely feel loved and makes the impossible seem possible. Amen
Just time for a poem to sort of sum things up:
The thing that matters
The thing that matters is that we listen.
Not to the fear pumped up by the media
Nor to the prejudice of angry internet voices.
Not to warm sweet words saying all is well
Nor to a dark hiss insisting this is the end.
What matters is that we listen to each other.
The thing that matters is that we trust.
Not in numbers, graphs, percentages,
Nor in someone’s slant on science
Not in overpriced self-help solutions
Nor walls built high to keep the dangers out.
What matters is we trust there is a hand
To hold us in the darkest night.
The thing that matters is that we love.
Not what we may buy or have,
Nor what we long for when this is over.
Not clothes that make us feel ten feet tall
Nor music which lets us forget our worries.
The one thing that matters most
Is that we love one another.
Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted;
honour everyone; love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
We close with a worship song that may be new to you but that I hope you like.
It has been lovely to catch up if only electronically.
Song: Tell your heart to beat again
Philips, Craig and Dean
Should you wish to use the poems in printed form please give credit to Dave Kitchen.