Maundy Thursday- the night of preparation and sorrow.

 Maundy Thursday- the night of preparation and sorrow.

into the night

Maundy Thursday marks many sad moments.  As Jesus and the Twelve share the Passover meal, Judas turns away. He has already agreed to betray Jesus. Now he leaves the gathering- as John 13:30 records poignantly“and it was night.”

Judas went into literal darkness and into spiritual desolation. It was night.

For Jesus too- after the meal they go out to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the darkness of night, the Light of the World tends to the dread of what is to come. Jesus goes into the night… and we should not minimise the pain and sorrow in his heart. His humanity must not be undervalued.

The terror and horror of the Cross stands in front of Him. The first nail was betrayal by Judas. Now Jesus wrestles in prayer, preparing Himself. The Eleven cannot stay awake- not even Peter, James & John– Jesus is alone. The submission to His heavenly Father’s Will is costly- sweat “like drops of blood” is a testimony to the suffering.

Armed guards arrive to arrest Jesus, and He is taken for trial by both Jewish and Roman authorities. The night seemed endless- but before the dawn, there is one more sharp nail to be driven home.

I do not know HimPeter, who had boasted he would NEVER deny Jesus, is brave enough to go to the palace courtyard- but not brave enough to hold firm when challenged.  Three times Peter is asked to identify with Jesus- and he denies Him. “I do not know the man.”

The flickering light of the fire illuminates the distraught face of Peter as he hears the rooster crow. The day of desperation dawns.

Peter went out into the darkness in tears.

This night is an opportunity to reflect on our own promises to Christ; to repent from our sins; and to remember the love of Jesus who faced whip, thorns, and nails for the sake of the world.

Reflect. Repent. Remember.

Credits: Quotation from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright © Richard Starling, 2018

The Lamb of God

Passover was a bad time for lambs. Our experience of lambs is probably limited to the sight of tiny woolly gymnasts bouncing and bleating on the farms. The distance from the field to the Sunday roast is a journey we don’t think on too much. Unlike the farmers, we can be idealistic about enjoying the cute antics and adorable faces.  They aren’t pets, though- and lambs live and die on purpose.

Smoke on the skyline of Jerusalem would have been almost permanent during the Festival. Everyone and their sheep came to the city for the priests to make sacrifice in the holy Temple of Almighty God.

It is nearly time. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. He does not call Jesus a hero, a ruler, or a prophet. Jesus is the Lamb, the One who will take away the sin of the world. Lambs live to die. Jesus will be THE great Passover Lamb, the final, complete, and perfect sacrifice Who fulfils the Law and the Prophets by sharing in the mystery of Death. But Death will not hold Him. We too were originally created to be eternal- and Jesus will be Victor over sin and death, and the Risen Champion who will unseat Satan from his stolen throne.

To fully understand the Atonement may be beyond our ability until all is revealed in our face-to-face with Jesus. Holy Awesome God of Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the One who Created and Sustains, is also Saviour, Redeemer, and is our True Lord.

Lamb of God_Ashridge SheepToday is a time to remember the fire, the smoke, and the blood of Passover. Jesus remembered that with his closest friends: they held the Passover Feast, and Jesus began to suffer as the traitor crept into the shadows of betrayal. The last meal of Jesus… bread and wine to celebrate the death of the Lamb.  Until He returns. Your sins, my sins, all the sordid sin of history consigned to the Altar. For see, THIS is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Think on that- with tears and joy.

Credits: Quotation from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright © Richard Starling, 2018

There will be Thorns- Look, See, Pray

There will be thorns… A perennial “weed” in my new garden is proving troublesome. Brambles are growing through the established shrubs- we even had a few decent blackberries in the autumn!  The previous owner of the house had become too frail to keep up with the gardening. It doesn’t take long for the brambles to grow and many other weeds to thrive.

Careful gardeners wear strong gloves. There will always be thorns, or splinters, or sharp stones… So it is the whole of life. For every flower, there is a weed; for every rose there will be thorns. I’d love to jump straight to the glorious Resurrection of Jesus- but there are a list of lessons to learn. Peter, John, James and Thomas all struggled with what Jesus began to teach on the road to Jerusalem. There will be stones in their shoes and thorns in their feet before they experience the deepest joy of meeting the Risen Christ.There will be thorns Lent 2018

Mark 8:31 (NLT)
Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.

Lent gives us time and opportunity to consider the reality of being a Christian disciple.  Most of us would welcome some assurance that our life is safe and secure. We may even start to believe that all trouble should pass us by- after all, did not Jesus promise to bless us and keep us? Yes, on the Way of the Cross. Discipleship means sharing the sufferings of Christ: they will come to those who faithfully witness to the Good News of the Kingdom.

Challenge those wishful thoughts of an easy road, today, as a Lent meditation.  Jesus suffered literal thorns- the crown of mockery- in order to fulfil His purpose of bringing in the Kingdom of God. He warned that we too would face trouble and even persecution because we follow the Way of the Cross.  He also warned that we might suffer as a consequence of our own faults and sins. So… how shall we respond?

Although we do not welcome the “thorns”- troubles and pain- can we, will we, accept thorns as a fact of our reality instead of blaming God?  Secondly: can we think of some “gardening” we need to do in our souls to pull out the brambles and weeds that are spoiling our walk with the HOLY Christ? Gardens that are well-tended have fewer nasty surprises. Some troubles and suffering will come to us. If we allow dark corners and overgrown tangles of self-centredness, pride, or impure thinking, that is where the thorns will grow.  We can, with care and Spirit-led humility, avoid the self-inflicted scars that afflict the unwary.

Thank You for the honesty of Jesus who warned us of the cost of discipleship. Lord, grant me patience and the spirit of humble repentance. Amen.

 

Credits: Quotation from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright © Richard Starling, 2018

It’s so ANNOYING!!!

It’s so frustrating. I’d even go so far as to say ANNOYING. I want to be cross. Grrrr…
 
I am quite a peaceable bloke. I don’t often want to kick things (or people) but I could make an exception in this case. Am I allowed? Aren’t I supposed to be nice? Even meek?
 
Hang on. Peaceful waterfall photograph… Steaming stroppy writer. What’s going on?Norway25th_0258cropQ
 
I am trying to get one of the big energy suppliers to do the decent thing (well, I do believe in miracles!). It’s proving difficult. I’m glad it’s not my supplier: but they really are the limit. For the umpteenth time I have been writing a friendly… er, no, a polite letter that is expressing frustration and anger at the way the company are trying to bully a customer and avoid responsibility for the company’s own failings. I hope this one works. Two pages of A4, typed politely and logically and OBSTINATELY and making some forceful points to a Jobsworth. Next letter goes to the Managing Director and Ombudsman.
 
The waterfall reminds me of the power of persistence. Water carves through the rock by refusing to stop flowing. It doesn’t give up.
 
It’s also calming. Remembering the day, standing and watching the beautiful curtain of white brushing across the surface of the cliff.
 
It reminds me of God’s patience too. His love has been gradually wearing down my resistance over the last fifty years- job not done yet, but this boulder is getting shaped by the power of love.
 
Why post this on a page about prayer? Because too often we Christians don’t know what to do with our anger, frustration and angst. What we should do is include it in our communion with Christ, as part of our prayer. To be quite honest I don’t feel like being particularly holy. I am raging at an injustice and the attempt to cover it up. But if I don’t express it in my praying, the turmoil of my mind will infect my spirit with unease, and my “prayer” would be a sham. Hey, Lord, I’m worked up about this!
 
I know I am in good company. Many of the great men and women in the Bible get hacked off and stroppy, and their prayers get real. God doesn’t smack then down for insolence or impiety.
 
Perhaps the value of the prayer is that it may change ME. No way can I ask God to strike down the offenders! Someone important said “LOVE your enemies.” I suppose my prayer is about needing strength to persist in fighting injustice… but not to become bitter or unjust myself. And not to yield to the temptation to kick some butt.
 
If only prayer was a simple formula of words. The One who offers Living Water wants to purify my heart, cleanse me of my annoyance, and teach me forgiveness. My heart is pretty hardened in this instance. Lord, please persist in wearing me down so I can forgive those who trespass against me and my “client” … and learn how to be justly, righteously, passionate about even the hardest boulders in life’s path. Teach me patience and persistence.
 
Persist. Living Water, flow through me. Amen.

Frost that chills the Soul

Frost that chills the soul Lent 2018The period from now until Easter is known as Lent. It is traditionally a time to consider our hearts as a preparation for the festival that follows.

In the U.K., Lent fits into the transition between winter and Spring. The weather changes daily. Yesterday was gale and driving rain; today is gloriously and warmly bathed in sunshine. A few days ago we had a sharp frost. I took this photo of frost-encrusted bramble leaves before the rising sun melted the icing. Frost enhances the shape and pattern of each leaf, and adorns it with a delicate sculpture of tiny ice crystals. Beautiful… but bitterly cold.

Taking this shock of icy cold as a starter, imagine what the Twelve felt like as Jesus spoke boldly and confrontationally about the true cost of discipleship. As He spoke, I suspect that a frost chilled their souls… “What have we let ourselves in for?”

Reflect on the following Bible passage- Mark 8:34-38 (NLT)

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Immediately after this came the Transfiguration. After that, Good Friday looms. Then will come Resurrection.

Lent reminds us that before we get to the glory and celebration, first comes the frost that chills our souls. Only when we fully understand the cost can we fully enjoy Resurrection Life.

Take the time to feel the chill… and then embrace the hope.