Holy Week Special Edition
We have put together a special edition of our on line magazine which we hope will enable you to reflect on Holy Week in a special way this year as we are unable to do our usual services. John and Elizabeth and Jo have kindly put together resources and video messages that we hope will help you to journey with Christ through a very unusual Holy Week, and we hope that these will be a blessing to you and your family.
Please click on the link below to hear a special message from John reflecting on Holy Week:
Resources for Worshipping at Home
During Holy Week 2020
Although we are unable to meet together as ‘gathered church’ to observe the richness of Holy Week this year because of the necessary Coronavirus restrictions, we hope you will take advantage of the wide variety of on-line and digital resources designed to help us experience the spiritual depth and power of the final week of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry for all.
In addition to the resources which follow on from this page (including special contributions from Revd. Elizabeth Wall, Revd. Jo Thornton, and Holland House retreat centre), please also enjoy:
The Church of England website (www.churchofengland.org)for a variety of daily on-line worship services, and a special Palm Sunday National Virtual Service on Sunday 5th April at 9:00am, led by the Bishop of Manchester.
The Lichfield Cathedral website
(www.lichfield-cathedral.org), featuring a variety of daily services accessed online through Facebook, a wonderful ‘Virtual Prayer Wall’ and ‘Light a Candle’, and special Palm SundayWorship services at 8:00am and 10:30am.
The Lichfield Diocese website
which offers, under the ‘Coronavirus’ information tab, a tremendous selection of services being streamed live by various churches, opportunities for creatively exploring Holy Week, and (at the foot of the main page) easy links to the websites noted above, and much more being added all the time!
May I warmly wish you and your loved ones an unprecedented, but still very special and spiritually rewarding Holy Week!
A note from Elizabeth………..
As public places we closely followed the guidance from Public Health England and the Church of England and suspended all public worship and non- essential meetings and then there were more restriction as we learned that our churches must close. The threat of Covid -19 remains critical. If this is what it takes to diminish the threat then we will do our bit.
Whilst a lot of pastoral care goes on privately and quietly, St. Stephen’s has set up a Phone Chain to keep in touch with our regular congregation whilst we cannot worship together. An update/bulletin has gone out to our congregation and others involved with our Church each Saturday morning. Prayers have been recorded for Sunday and a video produced with the help of Katie Levitt (on IT) and Tim Chamberlin (on music). We hope it helps to feel that we are all connected and worshipping together as we would have done in church. You will see that these are prayers and not a celebration of the Eucharist. I have decided that I will not celebrate this alone, at home, but wait for the day when we can celebrate together and share Communion again.
If you would like to join in Prayers then these are the links for the videos so far-
Mothering Sunday https://youtu.be/e1gyXJ9v1vI
Passion Sunday https://youtu.be/FSeFvvtFIKY
Please remember this is a first effort for me! Some of us are learning new skills and we are all trying to be innovative in ways to keep in touch!
As each day begins to feel a bit like Groundhog Day, there are some lighter moments. You may have seen the video of the family who recorded their frustrations to ‘One day more’ from Les Miserables. If not, click on the link below. It provides some light relief!
In fact, there is a Study Course based on Les Miserables (‘Another Story Must Begin’) which we were considering for launching in the autumn. The foreword to the book is so apt whilst we live with restrictions, isolation and anxiety for loved ones in the current crisis…
“God grant that as we walk with Christ through a broken and hurting world, we may journey on with compassion and grace, just as the Lord Jesus did, seeing our journeying as an opportunity to reach out to others in grace and love. Let us remember how powerful grace truly is to change lives, and as we experience it, exercise it, too, not knowing how it may affect the other. And let us pray that the suffering of Lent giving way to the joy of Easter may be a reality not just for us, but for all those with whom we come into contact.” (Jonathan Meyer, in ‘Another Story Must Begin’ Darton, Longman and Todd, 2014, Foreword)
Now we have journeyed through Lent and approach Holy Week. We began our journey to this point at that festival called ‘Candlemas’, when the Christmas season ended, and we heard the words of the elderly Simeon as the child Jesus was presented in the Temple. As he took him in his arms and blessed him. He said to his mother, Mary –
“This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel……………………and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
And there is another Mary in the story, too – Mary Magdalene who plays a key role on Easter Day as she discovers the empty tomb and is a key witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Like Mary Magdalene, we continue to discover the reality of resurrection often whilst it is still dark. We encounter it as we travel along the path of life. We may find ourselves very often echoing the words of Mary –
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Those of us who have not been through the tragedies and hardships some are forced to endure are sometimes tempted to celebrate Easter Day without expecting there to be a Good Friday. Jesus knew it could not be so.
For some, Good Friday never seems to end. May those who have the experience that Good Friday is all they may endure, find within themselves, as Mary did…….that God has indeed come alive within their experience……. that indeed, he will call you by name that you may recognise him and journey on to Easter Day.
Lord of Life, we are pilgrims on a journey.
You call us to look beyond the cross to your risen life.
This Holy Week - open our ears to hear what you are saying to us in the world around us and through the actions we take. Amen.
Elizabeth Wall Associate Minister
You asked for ourselves
You asked for our hands
Jesus came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ John 13:6-9
Would you have washed my feet?
I wouldn’t have done, in his place,
for they were dirty, sweaty, smelly,
so when Jesus came round to me with that bowl and towel,
well, there was no other word for it, I was mortified!
He was the teacher, I the pupil;
he the Lord, me a mere disciple;
what was he thinking of, demeaning himself like that,
as though I were the master and he the slave?!
He was right, though: I did understand later,
after they had beaten him up,
abused him, killed him, everything became clear.
Finally, finally, it got through to me:
that the last will be first and the least greatest;
that those who lose their life will find it;
that the humble will be lifted up and the proud brought low.
I needed to learn the values of his kingdom,
so different, so contrary to our own, and that night,
as he stooped before me, was another lesson in love.
He humbled himself, in life and in death –
a servant to us all.
Will you serve him in turn?
You asked for ourselves
You asked for our voice
8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Matthew 21:8
You should have heard them! What a noise! What a sight!
What a welcome!
I’m telling you, I’ve never seen the like,
not in all my born days, and there’s been a few of those.
We’ve had kings here, governors, would-be messiahs,
and they’ve all had their moments,
their fans out in force to acclaim them,
but nothing like this- nowhere near it!
They came in their thousands, eager to greet him,
the news of his coming having spread like fire.
And it wasn’t just his followers-
it was everyone, men, women and children plucking branches off the tress, tearing off their cloaks,
carpeting the road before him, their voices hoarse with shouting. ‘Hosanna!’ they cried.
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
It was treason, of course, but no one cared!
Yet, if that was unusual- the abandonment, the jubilation-
there were stranger things to follow.
Just a few days later – less than a week, in fact-
the scene was very different.
The same people, by and large,
didn’t have love in their faces, but hatred.
Instead of waving hands they were shaking fists
and shouting- ‘We have no king but Caesar!’
I wouldn’t have believed it possible,
but the sad fact is I not only saw it and heard it,
but in my own way I was part of the whole sorry business.
For when the crisis came, I was found wanting,
for I was a silent voice. I said nothing.
It was a chilling lesson and one that I like so many others,
learnt the hard way- that it’s easy to offer one’s allegiance,
much harder to actually give it.
You asked for ourselves
You asked for our ears
20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
We were there in the garden,
just us and Jesus, the night drawing in, the end drawing near.
We knew it, he knew it.
There could be no doubt any more, not for any of us;
no question for a last minute reprieve.
We’d seen Judas sneaking out earlier, darkness in his eyes,
and we knew it wouldn’t be long before vultures descended,
hungry to devour their prey.
We wanted him to run for it; back to Nazareth,
back to Galilee, back to the safety of the wilderness,
anywhere but there in Jerusalem.
But he wouldn’t listen, of course, wouldn’t even consider it.
So we stayed with him,
nervous, fearful, one eye over our shoulders,
listening, alert; but determined to do our best for him.
When he’d broken bread, he’d been trembling,
clearly tormented by what lay ahead;
and as we shared wine,
there was a sob in his voice, a tear in his eye.
Yet now he spoke, softly, gently,
and we who had ears to hear, heard.
And we realised that he was praying-
not for himself, but for us;
not for his own life, but for the life of the world!
Yes, I know it sounds hard to believe, but it’s true, honestly.
I was there, remember; I heard him.
It wasn’t his death that was troubling him;
it was the fear we wouldn’t stay together,
that somehow we’d become divided,
even end up fighting among ourselves.
God knows why he thought that,
but you could see how worried he was,
how much our unity meant to him.
It was his dying wish, in a way, his last request –
That we should stay together:
one people, one faith, one God.
Alright, so we’ve had our differences since then, I admit it-
not always seen things the same way, even occasionally fallen out-but I can’t see anything major coming between us.
After all, we’re his disciples, aren’t we:
all called by him, all confessing the same Lord.
We owe him that much indeed!
You asked for ourselves
You asked for our eyes
As they led Jesus away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him.
8 But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.”
30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
It was heartbreaking to see him,
to watch the man we’d come to love collapsing in agony,
to witness our dreams flounder with him,
lying broken in the dust.
Suddenly our world was in pieces,
for it was impossible not to look back
and remember his words in happier days-
words that had seemed so full of promise.
‘Come to me,’ he had said, ‘all that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
What could we make of that now as he staggered under the weight of that cross, crushed by the burden, scarcely able to stand, finally able to carry it no longer?
It challenged everything- all we had seen and heard,
all we’d come to believe- for how could it be:
the man who’d healed the sick, broken beyond recognition;
the one who’d forgiven our sins; the Messiah, who’d promised life, facing the darkness of death?
We stood there unable to make sense of what was happening. ‘Why doesn’t he do something?’ we asked.
‘He has the power, so why not use it?’
Surely now he could perform one of his miracles?
What was he waiting for? Why the delay?
We just couldn’t work it out.
Only then he turned and looked at us,
a slow, sad smile touching his face,
and I could see the sorrow he felt was not for him
but for us- the pain we had to bear,
the sorrow we had still to endure
as part of this broken world;
a world he had come to heal through his dying.
It was still heartbreaking to watch,
despite that knowledge, more awful that I can ever tell you, but it was no longer a mystery …………..not to me, anyway.
He could have walked away as I’d hoped he might do,
sparing himself the agony but he didn’t.
He died on that cross,
enduring our darkness- our death.
And I understood that he’d produced a miracle after all-
the greatest sign and wonder we could ever ask for!
We are very saddened to not be able to run our Good Friday workshop this year, but here is something you could make at home instead and display in your windows!
|What is Prayer ?
First of all, thank you for the many encouraging emails I've received so early in this series of reflections, and secondly for the many photos of your prayer-spaces, they were truly inspirational.
When we sit in our prayer space, what are we doing ? Do we need to have the same old conversations that we always do ? Even if we sit and say nothing at all, are we still praying? Likewise, if we sit in silence and all we can hear is the sound of the buzzing mind, the thought-factory churning out it's ideas about anything and everything - are we praying?
Jesus said "when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your father, who is unseen" (Mth 6:6)
And St Paul says, "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How to do both?
The room of which Jesus speaks is both a physical space (your prayer space for example), but also the inner room of the heart. To close the door is to sit in your space and enter your heart. The door is both a physical one, and also the door of the heart - the one that opens and then closes gently behind you when you fall asleep at night.
Once there, you are praying. Of course, you will be conscious of a deeper connection if you say your mantra, touch the beads or knots of your prayer rope or rosary, still the mind for a moment and focus on your symbol of Love. But if today you just can't, sitting in your space with an intention turned toward Love is enough.
Remember what prayer is, isn't. Prayer isn't something you do. Prayer is the realisation (making real) of a relationship at its most profound, transformational level. It's becoming increasingly aware of God's abiding presence both in and as our life, and in / as the life of all beings everywhere, from Mayflies to Moons. Prayer is making this relationship increasingly real to you, that is to say, that you discover that no place, no being, no form, no phenomena in space and time, is separated out from God. Including you.
You will know that prayer is doing its work because you'll find yourself in awe at even the smallest, most mundane things -a cup of tea, a shadow, the creaking of a tree in the wind, a dog barking in the distance. You discover compassion arising in you for all manner of things, yes even for wasps and slugs (you knew I would say that!). This compassion just seems to well-up out of no-where - you never knew you had it in you! But you've always had infinite compassion for infinite things, because you're the image of God - the issue has been you never had access to it before. Prayer is that doorway into your divine-nature. When you experience this, your life, and the life of all beings, will begin to be transformed.
To sit in your room, and to pray continuously is the same thing - two sides of the same coin.
The picture at the top of this letter is of a reflection in nature. There's no separation sky and reflection - and it's the same with you and God. To pray is to make this Truth real for you.
Scripture: "when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your father, who is unseen" : "pray continually"
Practice: Look upon one "thing" today and know no-separation. Give thanks to God for the grace of such knowing.
Prayer: "Dear Lord, open the eyes of my heart, that I may see your face reflected in everything you have made"
Comfort in Crisis
|Creating a prayer space in your home
|Today's photo is of a prayer space I created at home after visiting the home town of St Francis - Assisi - a few years ago.
Today I encourage you to create your own prayer space, or refresh it, over the next few weeks. It's a joyful thing to do and releases hope and gratitude while you build it. Here's some tips;
1) Size doesn't matter..... It can be a small table, a chair, a box, a windowsill, the corner of a large table etc
2) Build it in a place where you can be quiet (difficult I know at the moment with crowded houses for some). You only need solitude for maybe 10 minutes, so it doesn't need to be off-limits to everyone all day
3) Assign the space for the activity of prayer only - i.e. don't allow it to get cluttered with tea-cups, post, pens etc
4) Put three things in the space a) something that represents your faith / God / the Divine. This doesn't have to be the usual symbols such as a crucifix, cross, icon etc (but it certainly can if that's meaningful to you). It can be anything that speaks to you of Love. b) Put a light there - all the great traditions revere light as the Presence of the Divine, and there's something primordial and beautiful about creating it. The tealight in the picture is a little beeswax candle - smells of bees when I light it (as a bee-keeper I love the smell of bees!) c) Put something in the space that needs looking after - either a small indoor plant, a cut flower from the garden (could just be dandelion - why not - its a beautiful wild flower), or a shallow dish of water (which quickly evaporates). This little being (whatever it is) will call to you when its nearly gone, or indeed when it's finished, and you can give thanks for it and change it. It will help draw you to your space.
One additional thing might be incense of some kind - a little stick or cone works best (don't spend 20 minutes trying light charcoal !)
5) Make sure you can sit comfortable but attentively in the space - it's not a place for having a doze!
When you've made your space go sit in it and quietly dedicate it to Love. Make a heart commitment to go visit the space regularly, at least once a day - if only for a few minutes. Indeed, if you''re very busy with something else, just stand next to your space quietly looking at your symbols - letting them be a reminder that you're loved, and then get on with your day.
This is a space where you will meet with Love, and Love will meet with you. Not that you're not always in the Presence of Love, but because we forget, or feel separated from it, we need some help. So go sit quietly in the space - cry if you want to, smile if you want to, close your eyes and feel / listen to your breath, open your eyes and gaze at your symbols - each is a word proclaiming Love's eternal presence.
Let the space become for you a place of Comfort in Crisis.
Text : "when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen" (Mth 6:6).
Prayer: Let me hear you speak Lord, for you will speak of peace (from Psalm 85.8)
Practice: Build your space and make the heart commitment.
Much love and blessing be upon you, your families and friends, and your homes.
Revd Ian Spencer
Warden, Holland House Retreat
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