Holy Week: Holy Saturday

Matthew 27: 57-65

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

Holy Saturday can easily be overlooked. So much happened yesterday. So much awaits us tomorrow. Resting between the events of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, we find the crucified Jesus laying in Joseph’s tomb, at peace. Even though on the surface nothing really happens, Holy Saturday invites us to rest in grace and consider the tension between promise and fulfilment.

We find ourselves in this tension point all the time, as it invites us to do something that we’re not very good at: wait. Eager to rush ahead, we can miss out on the wonder of waiting. Time for us to learn to create space for God to enlarge us and His intentions.

Christ’s crucifixion took many by surprise, yet no-one expected that resurrection would take place. In the stillness of the in-between space, the scope of fulfilment was enlarged.

Today, can I encourage you and your family to take a real break by practicing Sabbath together? If you want some help around what it looks like to weave a Sabbath rhythm into your week, we have created a simple practice guide which you can access here.

Slow down today. Consider the quiet significance of Holy Saturday. Take a few moments to reflect in prayer or in conversation the promises that God has assured you of. As you reflect in the space between promise and fulfilment, what parts of your life may God be seeking to enlarge in you?

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Christ behind us in all of our yesterdays.
Christ with us in our today.
Christ before us in all of our tomorrows,
Alpha and Omega, Christ, Lord of all.

By the wounds and the blood of the Lamb, may God guard us and keep us.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

Holy Week: Good Friday

Matthew 27: 11-56

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

Into the darkness you spoke,
“Let there be light.”
Creation’s Craftsman forming a world,
At the heart of it stood a tree of life.

Into the despair you spoke,
“What is this you have done?”
Exiled from Eden, thorns and thistles took over.
But it was not finished yet.

For years you hid yourself from view,
Spending time in the workshop
Blistered hands gripping tools,
With wood chippings left scattered on the floor.

And then the time came,
“The Kingdom of God is at hand”
Repent.
Believe.

Picking up the broken pieces you restore it all back together.

You were loved and you were feared.
A Rabbi of the rejected.
A friend of sinners.
An enemy of the Empire, armed only with mercy.

A tree teeming with life was cut down.
Now a tree of death.

The centre point of our story:
Two posts nailed together,
The axis of the old and new.

You were forced to carry the tree on your scourged back
Wounds exposed
as you struggled along Via Dolorosa
to Calvary’s hill.

The Carpenter with a cross on his back.

You cleared away the thorns and thistles of exile
And wore them like a crown,
Bounding towards us,
You brought us back home.

Why did it have to be this way?
It could only have been this way.

Hanging on a tree,
Lifted high above evil and empire,
But close enough to hear your mother’s cry
You took one final breath.

“It is finished.”

Everything went dark.
But we have no need to be afraid,
For even the darkness will not be dark to you,
Darkness is as light to you.

“Let there be light.”

At the end of the day,
night will be no more.
At the heart of it all, a tree of life will stand,
Bearing fruit for humanity’s healing.

And you will be there.
Lord of love.
Restorer of all the broken pieces.

On this Good Friday,
We remember you.
And we adore you.

Craftsman.
Christ.
Saviour.
King.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

In Christ’s death is my birth.
He died that I might live.
He died that I might live.

In his life is my life
He died that I might live.
He died that I might live.

My Jesus.
You died that I might live.
You died that I might live.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

Matthew 26:47 – 27:10

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

There is nothing, for all time, that can separate us from the love of God.

Once a year, Yom Kippur would roll round; a day of atonement in which the tribes of Israel would gather to deal with their sin, shame, and guilt. The high priest would enter the tabernacle or the temple with two unblemished goats. He would lay his hand on the first goat, speaking over it the wrongdoing of all people before releasing it out into the wilderness, taking blame further and further away from the people. This took place before the ceremonial slaying of the second goat, who by its death received the punishment on behalf of the nation. In the moments following the yearly sacrifice, the priest would pass through the curtain of the temple to enter into the Holy of Holies, sprinkling the blood on its altar. As the ritual took place, a song resounded from the people:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
Psalm 32:1

Year after year, a priest would enter the temple to make a sacrifice. But this repetitive ritual was only a teaser for what was to come at the centrepoint of human history. For, as Hebrews puts it:

“[Jesus] has appeared once and for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Hebrews 9:26

At just the right moment, the anticipated High Priest and the true Temple became the perfect sacrifice. Good Friday is the true and better Day of Atonement – through the once and for all crucifixion of God himself, we have received eternal redemption. With a body broken and blood poured out, we can be sure that there is nothing, for all time, that can separate us from the love of God. That is good news; good news that invites us into a gospel-shaped ease.

The high priest of Israel would often pray a blessing over the nation: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Number 6:24-26). As Glenn Packiam would say, because of the cross, “every word of that blessing is now true for all who belong to Jesus. It is no longer a petition but a proclamation.” Because of the gracious sacrifice of Jesus, we have received the peace, the shalom of Jesus. In the Hebrew imagination, shalom speaks of wholeness, of becoming complete. With Christ’s cry of “It is finished,” we no longer need to add to the perfect sacrifice. We only need to rest in its completeness.

We are whole, we are blessed, we are beloved.

Or, as Brennan Manning would say,

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friends, is what it really means to be a Christian. Our religion never begins with what we do for God. It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Christ Jesus.”

May you this Easter come to taste and see once again that you are blessed for Jesus gazes upon you in love and sets us at peace.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

How long the road you came for us, Lord.
Your love has no limits.

You picked up the weight of the cross,
The weight of our sins.
We were your burden,
But that burden is sweet to you,
Because of the love you also bear for us,
An overwhelming love.
Your love has no limits.

Lord, I know you forgive me.
Your love has no limits.
Your love has no limits.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

Acknowledgements
Blessed Broken Given by Glenn Packiam
The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

Holy Week: Wednesday

Matthew 26: 17-46

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

Under the influence of Pax Romana, many in the ancient near East simply got used to its suffocating, systematic way of life. Caesar reigned supreme, ruling an empire that promised peace, prosperity, and the good life at the cost of your life’s allegiance. The common Roman practice of meal-sharing subconsciously reinforced this kind of imperial rule. Exclusive meals were hosted everywhere, marked by a lack of diversity, where women could only serve the reclining well-to-do men who fought to sit next to the host in the seat of honour. Through eating, drinking, and engaging in debate or poetry, Roman meals would come to a crescendo with the libation, when the host would offer wine to his guests. Glasses would be raised and sipped in tribute to the empire, with shouts of ‘Caesar is lord’ ringing around the table.

If you walked through the streets of Jerusalem in the evening, homes to your left and right would have been full of men sitting around tables. You would have thought nothing of it. Yet there would have been one or two homes with windows boarded up, the sound of clinking and conversation leaking out. If you had stopped in your tracks and peered through the cracks, you wouldn’t have believed your eyes – for you would be witnessing a new kind of community, a subversive tribe that took the traditional Roman practices and flipped them. Around this table, you would see men and women of all ages sitting together, peasants sitting beside leading officials, everyone serving one another. Bread crumbs covered the shared table and as wine was poured and shared, an alternative declaration was made: ‘Jesus is Lord’.

Caesar is not.

This subversive meal invited it’s guests to participate in a counter-narrative and become formed under the rule of a very different kind of King. This meal, which we too will share this Friday evening, was first shared by Jesus and His friends the evening before He died. Through communion, we remember the victory of the crucified King.

In the days leading up to Jesus’ death, there is a duel taking place, a fight between Kingdom and empire. We see this at the table, through the stand off between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, and most notably through the crowning irony of the crucifixion. The imperial officials may have believed that by sentencing this Nazarene peasant to death His influence would cease to exist. In their mockery, they hung a plaque reading “INRI” above Him as He died in brutalism. What they did not see, however, was that instead of utter defeat, this was in fact the moment of conquest for the King of the Jews.

Christus Victor.

“Divinity was for the greatest of the great: for victors and heroes, and kings. Its measure was the power to torture one’s enemies, not to suffer it oneself. That a man who had himself been crucified might be hailed as a god could not help but be seen by people everywhere across the Roman world as scandalous, obscene, grotesque.”
Tom Holland

As He was lifted high on Golgotha Hill, Jesus was lifted high above all powers and principalities. Dying at the hands of the empire, a counter-insurgency took place under the radar – a revolution that would redeem everything under the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.

A church plant in Colosse would later take a song dedicated to Caesar and remix it to express the victory of the true Lord:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Colossians 1: 15-20

Each time we share bread and wine, we, the alternative community of the King, make a subversive statement in homage to Jesus: He is Lord.

No ruler, leader, president, or king has the power to defeat death and conquer the evil one. Only Jesus can gather all the broken and fragmented pieces of the cosmos He Himself created and put it all back together. Only Jesus will gather His diverse family around a future feast in the age to come. Only Jesus deserves our ultimate allegiance. Only Jesus is Lord.

Speaking of the cross, Tom Wright says, “it gives us not a system, but a story; not a theory, but a meal and an act of humble service; not a celestial mechanism for punishing sin and taking people to heaven, but an earthly story of a human Messiah who embodies and incarnates Israel’s God and who unveils his glory in bringing his kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.”

As we gather around the bread and the cup as the friends of Jesus this weekend and many times after that, may we lay aside the customs of the empire and excuse ourselves from the table to practice the way of the King’s kingdom.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you today, without reservation and with humble confidence, for you are my loving Father.

Set me free from self-consciousness, from anxiety about tomorrow, and from the tyranny of the approval and disapproval of others, that I may find joy and delight simply and solely in pleasing you.

May my inner freedom be a compelling sign of your presence, your peace, your power, and your love. Let your plan for my life and the lives of all your children gracefully unfold one day at a time.

I love you with all my heart, and I place all my confidence in you, for you are my Abba.

Into your hands I commit my spirit.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

Acknowledgements
The Day The Revolution Began – Tom Wright
Dominion – Tom Holland
Subversive Meals – R. Allen Streett

Holy Week: Tuesday

Isaiah 53

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

Before we immerse ourselves in the events that took place both within and without Jerusalem’s walls, with the cry of “Crucify him” ringing out across the city, we should take time this week to read two ancient passages that direct our attention towards the cross. Whilst being the embodied fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies, the likes of which we have read today, we see that Jesus was also versed in the Biblical narrative. He, from the cross, bursts into the lament song we read yesterday.

Echoes of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 can be found right in the middle of the book of Lamentations; a series of five poems penned by an anonymous author who reflects upon the heartache of exile. Wilderness experiences call for honest wordsmiths. This poet does not hold back his protests or the expression of his confusion.

Last week, a friend of mine asked me why I’ve taken time to help guide us through this season of lent.

“I just want us to be more honest,” I replied, before going onto say something along the lines of:

“For when we are honest with God, we can truly begin to hope in Him.”

Lent teaches us that all of life is a valid entry point into an authentic relationship with Love himself. We must rediscover the daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms that get the awareness of His presence into our bones. Fake personas cannot be transformed. Only real humans can. When you get to grips with who you are and what you have been through, and realise who is leading you into the future – there is a character that can be marked by honest hope.

A character that is open to becoming more like our Shepherd, who guides us through all of life’s paths, never leaving us behind.

A few hours after speaking with my friend, Emma shared with me a passage of scripture she had been reading earlier that day from the middle section of Lamentations. Today, I want to share it with you, quoting it at length. This passage sums up everything I have wanted to share with you this lenten season and puts ancient words to my prayers behind the scenes for you, my family.

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
Lamentations 3: 19-32 [The Message]

We have covered a lot of ground over the past few weeks. As we look ahead to the changing of the seasons this Sunday, from Lent, to Eastertide, I want to encourage you to take time this Holy Week to go off by yourself, enter the silence, and bow in prayer.

As you listen and as you pray, consider what deeper invitation Jesus might be extending to you at this time in your life.

With the cross on your horizon, may you see there is grace within honesty.
And may we live as open as the tomb itself, gripping its hope.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you today, without reservation and with humble confidence, for you are my loving Father.

Set me free from self-consciousness, from anxiety about tomorrow, and from the tyranny of the approval and disapproval of others, that I may find joy and delight simply and solely in pleasing you.

May my inner freedom be a compelling sign of your presence, your peace, your power, and your love. Let your plan for my life and the lives of all your children gracefully unfold one day at a time.

I love you with all my heart, and I place all my confidence in you, for you are my Abba.

Into your hands I commit my spirit.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

Lent: Day Forty-One

Psalm 22

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

From anguished cries to casted lots for execution spoils, Psalm 22 is a vivid and prophetic depiction of Christ’s crucifixion. As we read through the psalmist’s words and listen to Jesus’ own song, we are reminded of the lengths He went for us on the cross.

For the crucifixion of the God-man was the only mode of sacrifice that could deal with our sin, fulfil the law and conquer death. There was no other way. As He was lifted up on a tree, Jesus would be lifted high above all evil and empire, defeating the evil one. Hanging between two criminals, Jesus also extended the Kingdom’s invitation of hospitable love, far and wide.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
John 15:13

As we look to Jesus, all we see is love.

We see His joy in loving us, His solidarity with us, how He engages our troubles comprehensively. As we are weary and heavy laden, we see He is gentle, willing to be lowly, washing our feet and inviting us to recline against Him as we catch our breath. His love always outpaces our prodigal wanderings away from Him, He is a fountain of endless mercy, an ever present friend who goes the length of the cross to empty Himself in love. His deepest impulse is to move towards us in self-giving, us-focussed, unconditional, hesed love.

His love never runs dry. Jesus died and lives for this stuff.

Through the abandonment and mockery Jesus faced, we see how much this sacrificial love cost. In the words of the old hymn:

“We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear;
But we believe it was for us,
He hung and suffered there.”

When we see the lengths that Jesus was willing to go for us; when we see that there is no limit to His love – we can be the kind of people who put the whole weight of our lives upon the love of Jesus.

As Tish Harrison Warren puts it in ‘Prayer In The Night’:

“The reason God is trustworthy is because God is love. And his love is not like ours. Our love – from the best to the worst of us – is more akin to day and night. It comes and goes, rises and falls. At times we love purely and nobly, and it is glorious. But it always fades and falters. The sun sets.

God’s love is a constant, not night and day, but the speed of light. His love is the centre of all things and there is no darkness in it. The love of God – not sickness or weariness or death or suffering or affliction or joy – is the fixed centre of our lives and eternity.”

The love of Jesus endures forever.

Some of us have heard that Jesus loves us so often that it’s become old news. This Holy Week, let’s take time to gaze once again upon the face of Christ, seeing the mercy in His eyes.

May we not only be saved by the love of Jesus but may our whole lives be shaped by it.

As we see that Christ’s love is our homeland and as we root ourselves in it, making ourselves right at home; may Jesus’ love become the orientating, burning centre of our lives.

We believe it was for us; the beloved.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you today, without reservation and with humble confidence, for you are my loving Father.

Set me free from self-consciousness, from anxiety about tomorrow, and from the tyranny of the approval and disapproval of others, that I may find joy and delight simply and solely in pleasing you.

May my inner freedom be a compelling sign of your presence, your peace, your power, and your love. Let your plan for my life and the lives of all your children gracefully unfold one day at a time.

I love you with all my heart, and I place all my confidence in you, for you are my Abba.

Into your hands I commit my spirit.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

Acknowledgements
Prayer In The Night by Tish Harrison Warren

Lent: Day Thirty-Eight

Matthew 16: 21-28

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

As Michelangelo chipped away at the stone block, David began to emerge. In the words of the sculptor, “David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that was not David.”
 
Discipleship comes with a cost as we join Jesus in bearing a cross on our backs. While grace is freely given, it doesn’t come cheap. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say, “As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
 
In our ‘always be optimising’ age centred on living our best lives, Christ’s words are all too easily dismissed with its chat of denial and death. Yet as we will be reminded this day next week, in the flow of the paschal mystery, life follows death. When we follow Jesus’ pattern of denying ourselves, we won’t lose our life – instead, we will truly find it. As Thomas Merton would say, within each of us there is a true self; a Christlike character waiting to be carved out. In a subversion of what we expect, for ourselves to truly emerge, we are to deny ourselves and practice the Christ life in the Christ way by taking on the nature of a servant, humbling ourselves even when it hurts.
 
“Cross bearing is the long lesson of our mortal life. It is part of God’s salvation, called sanctification.  It is a lesson set before us every moment of every day. If life were an art lesson, we could describe it as a process of finding out how to turn this mud into that porcelain, this ugly stone block into that statue, this tangle of thread into that tapestry. In fact, however, the stakes are higher than in any art lesson. It is in the school of sainthood that we find ourselves enrolled and the artefact that is being made is ourselves.”
J.I. Packer
 
You, the true you, will not emerge from the marble by addition, through the satisfaction of all your cravings, or by keeping up with [insert person you know or don’t know that you keep comparing yourself to]. It is only by walking the path of truth and life through the denial of self and service of others that you will truly appear. The way of the cross is to be our way of life, chipping away at everything that is not you.
 
As we look ahead to our story reaching its unending conclusion, Jesus will return and we will be like Him. But the end is where we start. With the Spirit as the sculptor, the art lesson has begun as we live open to formation into Christ nature; the stature of our truest selves.
 
Good Friday is one week away.

We can so easily narrow the cross down to make it all about one thing. As we prepare for the last leg of our lenten journey, may we widen our lens, seeing that the cross is kaleidoscopic, inexhaustibly rich. And may we heed the words of Christ, for our lives are not solely to be saved by the cross (of course they are), our lives are also to be shaped by it.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, O Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

 

Lent: Day Thirty-Seven

Psalm 103

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

In the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, we sing that the crucifixion of Christ is the place where love and sorrow meet.

Love and sorrow are tethered together as the axis of the cross.

We can unreservedly, from our innermost beings, praise the holy name of the Lord who forgives all our sins, redeems our life and crowns us with love. This love, however, came at an unspeakable cost. We must therefore practice holding the tension of joy and pain. Only then will we truly see into the kaleidoscopic, inexhaustibly rich nature of our redemption, and learn to value it above anything else.

“This is my body…”

As a Father showing compassion to His children, God has brought us home to Himself. He has clothed us with gracious and abounding love. This love is expressed not solely through an acquittal. Grace is an infusion, a transplant, a resurrection of our very beings. Love Himself has offered us His life.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
John 15:13

We have received the greatest gift of all: a loving union with our Faithful Friend.

We are now seen by God exactly as Jesus is seen by God. We have been crucified with Christ, identified with Him. We are no longer the mistakes we have made. We are not the plans that have failed. We are not the sins we have chosen. We are the perfectness He has finished. We are the beloved.

In Christ, we are accepted, anointed, sealed, forgiven, redeemed, complete, free.
We are Christ’s friend, God’s child, Spirit’s home.

“…broken for you.”

At the site of the cross we delight in the grace of Christ, feeling the relief of love. Yet we must remember – a body was broken for us to receive such mercy.

Eight months before his execution, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, held captive by Hitler, wrote these words from prison:

“God lets Himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. Christ is weak and powerless and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which He is with us and helps us. Christ helps us, not by virtue of His omnipotence, but by virtue of His weakness and suffering. That is a reversal of what the religious man expects from God.”

Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. No one expected God to be crucified.

We can’t distract ourselves away from the sorrow of the crucifixion, the brutality of it. It brought about the death of death, but it was the worst way to die.

There was the scourging, the exposed tissue, the hunger, the humiliation, the nails in the wrists, the verbal abuse, the thorns piercing the skull. And there was the sentence of being your own executioner – to draw a breath you were forced to pull yourself up, only for your own diaphragm to suffocate you.

The cross is a tragedy. It’s a murder at the hands of an empire. Most brutally for the Son, it was above all, a moment of divine isolation.

We love either-or’s, but both-and’s bother us.
In our joy, may we gaze into the eyes of Love and never turn our faces away from His suffering..
For it is in the reality and brutality of the cross that God is truly revealed:

Lord of love.
Man of sorrows.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, O Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

 

Lent: Day Thirty-Six

Genesis 3

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

“Where are you?”

There are two ways to hear these three words.

We can hear the fury of an angry God, disappointed and in despair, driving His image bearers out of the garden. Or we can hear the words of a good Father, searching for His children, clocking that they are lost, trying to navigate their way through the new terrain of shame.

Even in the garden, God is in patient pursuit of us.
He is forever slow to anger and rich in love.

There’s more going on in Eden than meets the eye. While we may skim read the text, only paying attention to how we have warped the ways of the Lord, we can miss the traces of grace to be found in the garden. For even in the bleakest moment of human history, we receive redemption, resurrection and shame shattering grace.

Early on, the themes of the God story are played out for us to see.

There are a few things that we don’t talk seem to talk about when we talk about the fall:

One
In verse 15, we find the first glimmer of the Gospel with the prophetic image of the crushing of the serpent’s head. The evil one will one day be defeated by one of Eve’s offspring, Christus Victor, who would disarm death and defeat sin. In the garden, we see the unfolding story of redemption – not a short story of a God banishing His creation out, leaving them to fend for themselves; but instead a long narrative arc that climaxes on the cross.

Two
Following the Father outlining the consequences of the fall we read: “And the human called his woman’s name Eve, for she was the mother of all that lives. And the Lord God made skin coats for the human and his woman, and He clothed them.”

Fig leaves are inadequate in covering our naked shame. Pay attention to God’s gracious provision, as He clothes us. Skin coats wouldn’t have been lying around Eden’s garden; an animal sacrifice would have been required to cover the shame of Adam and Eve – an echo of the once and for all sacrifice of the Lamb who would forever clothe us in mercy.

Three
Eating of the fruit of the tree came with a death penalty. While they faced harsh and fair sanctions, Adam and Eve walk out east of Eden still breathing. Through His gracious pardon, we see God’s resolve for life. For those who were as good as dead to receive life, is nothing less than resurrection.

I’m not saying that we should forget about the harsh reality of the fall. But I am wanting us to rediscover that even in the bleakest moments of human history, we see God for who He truly is: a loving Father in pursuit of His children. At the point of our rebellion, He begins redeeming, leaving a comma at the end of Eden rather than a full stop. This comma creates the conditions for the birth of a new kind of Adam and the bursting forth of a new kind of creation.

May we acknowledge the fall’s fracture, neither underestimating or overemphasising it at the expense of mercy.

May we hear the Father’s cadence as He asks “Where are you?”

And may we see that our story, from garden to city, finds its centre point at the Cross of the Lamb.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, O Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

 

Lent: Day Thirty-Five

Philippians 3: 7-21

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

As the air warms and new life begins to bud, you can tell that this wrestle is in its final rounds. Spring is strengthening its grip on winter. Renewal has the upper hand. Yet as we squint into the low lying sun during the day, we are still lighting fires in the evening.

We are not there yet.

Truthfully, I want to be done with Lent. Everything within me wants to sprint towards Resurrection Sunday with its empty tomb and mistaken Gardener. I want to be there already. My favourite stories are ones that are resolved, hence my longing to skip through the stations of the cross and avoid the hard parts.

However, if we are to echo Paul’s desire to truly know Christ, we must know both the power of resurrection as well as His crucifixion. For only as we rehearse Lent’s lament, we can unashamedly rejoice on Resurrection Sunday.

As we look ahead to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, we are invited to hold out that little bit longer. In our Lenten reflections, we are now turning towards the cross and readying ourselves to gaze through the surest, truest window of the heart of God. By staring into His eyes we only see mercy and love, drawing us beyond the veil into the embrace of His presence.

These next few days of solemn preparation are to shape our loves and our longing. You can’t rush and wonder at the same time. Lent’s last days may slow us down, but they leave us captivated by the One who gathers up all that is lost, the One who loved us first, the One who brings to life all that has died, the One who is stronger than death itself.

Some of my earliest memories as a child involve showing up to church fifteen minutes early on a Sunday evening, where a grey man in a grey suit would stand at the pulpit and ask us to turn in our hymn books to “The Old Rugged Cross”. I would join the chorus of faithful saints singing of a hill far, far away, and a cross to cling to.

Since then, I’ve carried the cross of Jesus with me. With time though, familiarity has kicked, domesticating Christ’s death, as I reduce it down to one thing: my Jesus saving me. Of course, the cross is about that, yet of course there is more to it than that.

With the passing of time and my short-circuiting of the seasons, my grip of the cross has weakened as I often rush prematurely towards the resolution of resurrection.

What if we took the next few days to stick around the wilderness that little while longer and prepared ourselves to ascend Calvary’s hill? What if we came to see that the cross is not about one thing, but about everything. For the cross of Jesus is inexhaustibly rich. It is kaleidoscopic.

To recapture the wonder of the cross, we will need to embrace its paradoxes. There are parts of the tree that can only be noticed as we cling to it, not rush past it:

Life everlasting demanded a death.
Sin is shattered by the Sinless.
Shame is covered by the shaming of a Messiah
Great violence was met by the greatest act of non-violence.
Through abandonment and loneliness, Jesus establishes a community of millions of people around Him.
A criminal was forgiven in an instant.
With one act of great injustice, the justice of God prevails against all evil.
In defeat comes victory.

The cross is full of tension. For as His wounded, broken body is lifted up on a tree to die, in that same moment, a crucified God is lifted above all people, all stories, all histories, all powers, rulers, governments, systems, and structures as the Lord of lords, the King of kings, the Ruler of all things. Jesus’ death became a wrestling match where the hold of sin was broken, injustice was defeated, powers and principalities were brought low. While the evil one did his worst, the Lord of Hosts rose.

Christus Victor.

May you not rush through the last days of lent.

Take your time, walk the last leg slowly.

For in beholding both crucifixion and resurrection, you will know Christ.

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same,
The three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation;
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation.
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________

 

321 Questions for Huddles

1. Why do we sometimes settle for cheap forms of discipleship rather than a devoted faith centred on practice? Take time to name some of the cheap, fast-food that we can consume rather than maturing through a slow-cooked spirituality.
2. How can we create space to know God and be known by Him in these days?
3. If the end is where we start, how can we practice a good and faithful life, full of service, today?

Lent: Day Thirty-Four

John 13: 1-30

Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.

If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.

As we find ourselves in this familiar scene of Jesus’ final Passover meal on earth, you can feel the momentum building towards the looming dark events leading up to His crucifixion. As we walk this journey of lent again, I am struck by a remarkably simple phrase I have missed on this well-trodden path. Right here, in the middle of this last supper, we read that the disciple whom Jesus loved rested or ‘reclined on Jesus’ chest’ … or shoulder … or breast, depending on the version you are reading!

It would be easy to miss this beautiful moment of love amidst the pending betrayal. Earlier that same evening, we read Jesus ‘showed them the full extent of his love’ when He washes their feet, and even more intimately as He takes the time and energy to embrace one whom He loves dearly. John must have felt the very breath of Jesus breathing in and breathing out as he rested on His chest! Imagine it for a moment (this image may help).

What must it have been like?

What might John have felt in that moment?

Amid Jesus’ own impending darkest hours, He offers rest to one of His dearest disciples. Now, insert your name here as the disciple whom Jesus loves …. and pause!

Breathe In

‘My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God’
Saint Augustine

Can you hear His invitation to rest on His chest… not for a quick few seconds, but resting here for ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes?

Now perhaps for some of the Northern Irish men in our midst, even the idea of a man resting his head on another man like this causes a sharp cultural intake of breath! Perhaps it would be fine for a fleeting moment, followed by a manly pat on the back to ease away the awkwardness. If we move beyond this unease, there is an opportunity to find deep rest and assurance as a son and daughter of the Beloved.

Take a moment to imagine yourself resting on Jesus’ chest.

How does it feel?

What is on your mind that you can now let go of?

What will you whisper to Him as you rest here?

What do you hear Him whisper back?

God’s rest is not circumstantial.

Like a child finds reassurance and security in the comforting embrace of a mother or father, we can find the same in His embrace. In our world of relentless doing, what would the regular practice of ‘being’ this close to God be like?

What if we could find inner silence and rest, not just outer silence for fleeting moments?

What would it change in you?

Jesus’ invitation to you today is one of inner rest and surrender. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. As the disciple whom He loves, He invites you to rest on Him, not just during lent, but everyday.

As we breathe in the very life and love of God, we receive His oxygen of life, giving us rest and recuperation for our whole being. As we approach the easing of lockdown and we return to a ‘new normal’, could your willingness to constantly respond to this invitation of surrender, letting go, and finding rest in God be part of your new normal?

Centring Prayer is one way I respond to this constant invitation. In that time of being with Him, I have learned to set aside my thoughts and internal commentaries to meet with God as He is, not as I am.

Breathe Out

‘For in Him we live and move and have our being’
Acts 17 : 28

As we breathe in this rest and love on the chest of Jesus, we in turn are invited to breathe out in the same way Jesus models for us here. At the dawn of this chaotic chapter in Jesus’ life, He makes Himself available to His disciples who need solace in His presence. Jesus practised this pattern of breathing in from His source, the intimacy and communion with His Father, then breathing out as He gives this intimacy and communion to His disciples. As you lay close to Jesus’ chest, I wonder who else around you might need to know the rest and embrace of Jesus too?

Who might you encounter today, for whom you can embody the restful shoulder of Jesus?

Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, O Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

In the name of our good and faithful Lord we pray,
Amen.

If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.

Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.

Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.

“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”

Ann Voskamp

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.

________