Passion Sunday 2022 – Dave Kitchen
Come amongst us,
Not so that we can have comfort from yesterday
But so that we can have hope for tomorrow.
Never let us forget the past
But help us use it for direction in the times to come.
On some mornings, the road looks long
And we know there may be many miles to cover
But we are heaven-bound for we are yours, Lord,
And amazingly you have chosen to belong here in our lives.
Not my will
Not what I want, Father, but what you want.
So that’s no to easy solutions,
No to just commenting and not doing,
No to all the things that I really want!
Not quite, my child.
Sometimes you want the right things,
you make good calls and you can go ahead
with my blessing and my love.
But not often!
Ah, that depends on how much you’ve been tuned in.
But prayer is always less painful
than not listening to my quiet voice.
Most of the time.
There’s no point in shouting if you don’t have to.
But I’m not sure I want to do what you want me to do.
I’m not even sure if I can.
I’ll make it possible.
The real question is whether you will.
© Dave Kitchen
Mark 14 32-38
Stay awake: Peter’s story
We couldn’t even stay awake. That was what shook me. When he was apart from us, it was my job to step up. Or, at least, that was how I understood it: He’d told me that I would be his rock. I’d be the strength on which everything else was built. What a promise! That night, the only way in which I could be compared to a rock was the fact I was as still and as senseless as one. Out cold!
Years later, my wife would tell me that you can’t be blamed for falling asleep. It happens. She’s right, of course and we were all exhausted but that really isn’t why it hurts me to remember my failure.
You see, I’d made such a right fuss about how he could rely on me, how others might fail him but I wouldn’t. I believed it too. I thought I I’d be up to it, whatever the situation was.
I’d reckoned I could cope with whatever might occur. Yet, when Jesus was praying for strength to accept whatever might happen to him, I was asleep. He was giving himself up and I wasn’t even awake.
Why on earth do we think we’re stronger than those we follow? Stupid, stupid, stupid!
‘You try too hard; you worry too much,’ my wife tells me.
She’s right. But it’s worse than that: I wanted to be in control, that night. Still do. And you can’t be.
What will happen, will happen. You need to hear his voice not only leading you on but also telling you to let go, to leave it to others or even no one. Everything will work out one day but it will be God who makes that happen, not us.
And so I carry with me those words I heard as I drifted in and out of sleep in the garden: not what I want but what you want, Father.
I say them quietly to myself at least once every day. And, while back then they were the words I heard when I should have stayed wide awake, now they are the ones that let me lie down and sleep, safe in the thought that He is in charge, not me.
Lord, whenever we begin to think that we are in control, remind us of Peter. Whenever we feel sure of our strength, remind us of how he slept when he was supposed to be keeping guard.
You know our fears about the world spiralling out of control. War and disease have stalked news bulletins like nightmares from another century.
Draw us back from thinking only in such panic-stricken terms and teach to see the good as well as the bad. One way or another we will get through.
But we won’t do that thinking it’s all up to us. Peter didn’t and neither will we. May our last prayer every night be the one that echoed in Peter’s mind and heart: not what I want but what you want, Father.
On Passion Sunday, when we look at Gethsemane, we rarely pause to ask how that day started. But Christ’s first act on Thursday is worth looking at. So let’s imagine the morning through the eyes of John, the disciple.
I slept slightly longer than usual after the supper of the previous evening and was woken by my older brother’s hand shaking my shoulder.
‘Come on, snoring boy, the rest of us are up. It’s Passover Supper, tonight.’
‘All you ever think about is food,’ I told him. ‘I could have been lying here quietly praying.’
‘But, you’re not so get up,’ he demanded.
I was secretly glad he’d woken me because I hate the idea that I might be missing something. I’m the one in the family who likes to do the detailed stuff.
As it happened, there was at least one detail about the day that none of us knew: the venue for the Passover Supper. I’d asked Peter the evening before if he knew. He shook his head.
‘Bit strange,’ I said.
Peter gave me a look that suggested he was bothered about the fact as
well: ‘It’s not what he usually does but this is a troublesome week in all sorts of ways. I suspect he’s not told us deliberately.
‘Because we’re unreliable?’
Peter laughed briefly: ‘We’ve always been unreliable. He’d have never told us a single thing on that basis. No, I think it’s because he doesn’t want anyone to hear who might pass messages on about where it’s to be.’
I thought that sounded a little bit ridiculous out here in sleepy old Bethany but Jesus did very little if anything without good reason. Once we’d gathered together and were eating Martha’s fantastic fresh bread, Phillip asked Jesus where he’d like us to make arrangements for the supper that evening.
It is all in hand, he told Phillip and then he turned to Peter and me.
‘I want you to take our usual route to the city. When you get there, a man carrying a water jar will meet you. You do not have to say anything, just follow him. He will take you to a house where you are to say to its owner – the teacher asks: where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover meal with my disciples? You’ll be shown a large upper room which should be ready for us. Make our preparations there.’
Peter said: ‘A bit like last Sunday’s arrangements, then.’
Jesus smiled sadly: ‘Only a bit.’
We set off straight away. It was a fresh spring morning, the sort in which you can believe all the best things in life are before you. Except that wasn’t how we felt on this occasion.
The plan worked without a hitch. A young man was resting in the shade of the city wall just outside the gate. When he saw us drawing near, he nodded almost imperceptibly, lifted a great water jar onto his shoulder and ambled casually through the gate. We followed silently.
I recognised parts of the route we took but it certainly wasn’t the quickest way to our destination. At one point we almost lost him in the market bustle but he slowed just enough for us not to lose track.
When we got there, I was puzzled: ‘Isn’t this where John Mark lives with Mary his mother?’ I asked Peter.
He nodded: ‘My brother brought Bartimaeus here to meet Mark earlier in the week.’
‘So what was the point of complicating it all?
‘In order to be complicated, I think. Could you have followed us through those streets?’
‘Probably not,’ I admitted.
‘Then probably we haven’t been followed.’
Our guide didn’t enter the main part of the house but took us up a set of stairs to an upper room. It looked pretty well prepared before we did anything. Mary Magdalene, who had been staying in Jerusalem, was there.
‘Welcome,’ she said. ‘How is everyone?’
‘A little edgy,’ Peter confessed, ‘but then it’s been a difficult week. Have you done all this sorting out for us?’
She smiled: ‘Mary and I have made a start but you’ll doubtless have your own ideas. Just tell me what else you need and I’ll sort it. It’s easy enough for me to be out on the city streets without any comment. If you make yourselves visible, the information is liable to be with the Temple authorities in less than five minutes.’
‘It feels like we’re hiding from the scene of a crime,’ I observed.
Mary Magdalene nodded: ’The only difference may be that we’re trying to stop the crime from happening.’
John’s account of Thursday morning as I imagine it. The bible verses used to build this picture are: Matthew 26, v17-19; Mark 14, v12-16; Luke 22, v7-13. The reason for the arrangements in the gospel accounts is clear. Christ is not going to put other people in the firing line. These are dangerous times and Jesus is sensible as well as spiritual.
Prayer for Ukraine
God of all peoples and nations,
who created all things alive and breathing, united and whole,
Show us the way of peace that is your overwhelming presence.
We hold before you the peoples of Ukraine and Russia,
every child and every adult.
We long for the time when weapons of war are beaten into ploughshares
when nations no longer lift up sword against nation.
We cry out to you for peace;
Protect those who only desire and deserve to live in security and safety
Comfort those who fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones
Be with those who are bereaved.
Change the hearts of those set on violence and aggression
And fill leaders with the wisdom that leads to peace.
Kindle again in us a love of our neighbour,
a passion for justice to prevail
And a renewed recognition that we all play a part in peace.
Creator of all hear our Prayer, bring us peace, make us whole.
Later on Thursday
Let’s return to the story of the Thursday in Holy Week and this time to John’s companion, Peter.
We didn’t stay long in Jerusalem, an hour or so I would guess and then left in the same way we entered thanks to our guide whose name I never discovered but whose help was essential.
Our return for the supper together in the city occurred only when the day was truly over and we could move about with less chance of being observed. Jesus had a look of focused determination on his face. I’d known how much he’d wanted to celebrate this Passover in Jerusalem and I assumed that was what the look meant. Even at that stage we had little idea what was to happen next.
Once we were safely together in the upper room, there was time for the sort of discussions that often broke out when we had a little time to spare. On this occasion, the subject was which one of us might turn out to be the greatest – the sort of stupid argument that boys get into and we should all have grown out of … but hadn’t.
Jesus didn’t stop us; he just got up, took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist and poured water into a basin. For once, I could see what was going to happen and I was appalled. He actually started washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with the towel wrapped around his waist. The other disciples were astonished and speechless.
When he got to me, I had to say something. What are you doing washing our feet, I asked him.
It may not make sense now, he told me, but one day it will.
I tried to stop him: ‘Never!’ I declared, ‘You never need to wash my feet.’
‘But I must,’ he told me. ‘Unless I do this, you cannot be a part of the work I am doing.’
‘Then all of me,’ I replied, ‘hands and feet as well,’ which was a bit of a jump from none but I’m afraid that’s me.
He explained how it wasn’t necessary and I get that now. You see, it was like a parable taking place with us as part of it. We saw ourselves as his servants then but, at some time in the future, liked the idea of being very important in our own right. He wanted us to know it wouldn’t be like that. Each one of us had been put here for others, not just for ourselves.
Not only did he stop us in our tracks, we never went back to arguing which one of us would be the biggest and the best. After that night, whenever I began to get ideas too grand for my head to fit through a doorway, I’d close my eyes and see Jesus kneeling at my feet. Then I’d say to myself: he loved me enough to serve me and to wash my feet. If he could do something like that, then so could I.
Peter’s story as I imagine it. You can show passion in a million ways. Here Jesus does it in a simple act of service. Whenever you do something for someone else, you reflect Christ’s passion. But remember this, too. Whenever you let someone do something for you, you’re giving them the chance to share Christ’s work. And it’s because of one such moment that I’m here today.
My story begins on April the 10th 1966 – Easter Sunday. It’s between 2.30 and 3.00 in the afternoon outside a chapel in the Peak District.
I’ve already chased the sheep away from the outside toilet so the girls can use it and we’re waiting for the first of the congregation to arrive.
It’s the youth fellowship’s Easter Trip. Usually the minimum age for participants is 16. I’m 14 ¾ but no one has checked my age and my parents are fine with the trip. They think I’m better when I’m in a group and fully occupied. Probably right!
As for me, I’m aware that I’m pushing the boundaries so I’m trying hard to look the part and fit in. That’s why I’d chased the sheep out of the toilet and checked it for spiders and snakes. I want to be useful; I want to belong.
We’re at Woodland Chapel. I think I’ve got the name right. It’s been a long time. We’re there to take the afternoon service. Now, we know there will be at least four in the congregation, maybe as many as six. What’s absolutely certain is that our youth fellowship will account for at least three quarters of the people there.
Les Goulden is one of our group and already a qualified local preacher. By my standards, he’s relatively ancient – about 22 if I remember it right. He’s great but not always the best organised worship leader in the world.
‘Right,’ he says at about ten to three, by which time real members of the congregation have started to arrive, ‘I could do with someone to read John 20, 1 to 16. Anyone like to do that?’
It’s a bit short notice and nobody, but nobody, wants to be in the firing line. A lot of people start inspecting the walking boots they’ve worn for the hike to this chapel stuck slap bang in the middle of a Methodist farmer’s sheep pasture.
The silence is awful. Looking back, I suspect that Les has learnt that someone, somewhere will break a silence if it’s long enough. I’m in a particular dilemma. I desperately don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb but I also desperately want to be part of the group. When, it’s absolutely clear that no one is going to volunteer, I say: “Well, I’ll have a go, if no one else wants to.”
I look around. Very definitely, no one wants this particular task. So I sit there in the first part of the service quietly mugging up on John 20. Secretly, I quite wanted to read it the moment he said John 20, 1 to 16. It’s Mary at the tomb and the story has always taken my breath away from the first time I heard it.
When the time comes, I take a deep breath and deliver my sixteen verses from the Authorised Version without any mishaps. As I sit back down, I get a couple of encouraging smiles and nods. It’s a fantastic feeling because it sort of earns me a place in this group who are all older than I am.
But’s it’s about to have a much more unexpected and long-lasting effect. Les comes up after the service and puts his arm around my shoulder. ‘Good stuff,’ he tells me in a tone that suggests he’s surprised I can do that sort of thing. ‘You wouldn’t like’ he asks, ‘to come out with me sometimes and help me in services.’
I smile and nod: ‘I’d be happy to.’
Les Goulden, later to be the Reverend Lesley Goulden, has spotted something, as he often did across the years, and followed his instinct.
So this is where I first felt that sense of belonging that has stayed with me for more than 50 years. Les and I got on so well. I was amazed by his steady, clear wisdom as he led worship. He liked my willingness to try anything and offer ideas. And he noticed something, he couldn’t get over.
‘Why?’ he demanded as we sat in the vestry, ‘are the palms of your hands not sweaty?’
I didn’t know what to say.
‘Aren’t you nervous?’ he asked incredulously.
‘I’m excited,’ I told him, ‘and I want to do it right so perhaps I am a bit nervous.’
The truth was that I was thrilled to be a part of it all and happy to be a part of sharing the message. The odd thing is that I rarely get nervous in the way that Les did. A doctor might suggest I have a malfunctioning amygdala if I asked her or him. Les just said I was fortunate and ought to thank my lucky stars.
And he’s right: I am blessed because I always feel at home with you. But it’s more than that. I’m still here because I want to go on telling how Mary Magdalene was saved when she felt that all had been lost. And how so many since her have had that extraordinary feeling as well. We are loved; we can be forgiven; we can always start again. We just need to want to.