Prayers and Reflections during the Covid-19 crisis


(Adapted from

Lord God, the maker and redeemer of all, as we come before you in grief and praise
this day, lamenting the death toll and suffering of this pandemic. Comfort us with
your presence, make us attentive to your voice, and sustain us with the hope
of your kingdom.

O Christ, Son of the living God, help us when we are too cast down to pray, and
grant that we may trust you all our days, for you are with us in our living and our dying, Jesus, Lord and God.

In the darkness of unknowing, when your love seems absent, draw near to us, O God,
in Christ forsaken, in Christ risen, our Redeemer and our Lord.   Amen. 

Psalm 130

My hope is in God’s word.

Out of the depths I have called to you, Lord; Lord hear my voice. 
If you recorded all our sins. who could come before you?
But there is forgiveness with you: therefore you shall be feared. 
My soul is longing for the Lord, more than those who watch for daybreak.
O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy.

My hope is in God’s word.

 Father, we commend to your faithful love those who are crying from the depths; help them to watch and pray through their time of darkness, in sure hope of the dawn of your forgiveness and redemption; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 Romans 8:34

It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 
As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’   
(Psalm 44:22)
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else
in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 


Lord Jesus Christ, help us as we lament those who have died from Covid-19, those who are sick and weakened, and those who are mourning the loss of loved ones. May the tears shed in your earthly life be balm for all who weep, and may the prayers of your earthly pilgrimage give strength to all who suffer, for your mercy’s sake.   Amen.

From your royal throne, O God, you sent your living Word to pierce the gloom
of despair; so, in our souls’ night, come with your saving help and penetrate our darkness with the rays of your glory in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, when fear and anxiety besiege us and hope is veiled in grief,
hold us in your wounded hands and make your face shine on us again, for you are 
our Lord and God.  Amen

 Come, creator Spirit, source of life; sustain us when our hearts are heavy and 
our wells have run dry, for you are the Father’s gift, with him who is our living water, 
Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 The Lord’s Prayer:   

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come, thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.   Amen.

 The Lord bless us and keep us;  the Lord make his face to shine upon us and 
be gracious unto us;  the Lord lift up his countenance upon us and give us peace. Amen


Here are reflections offered by the Rector       (in reverse chronological order)

Reflection for Pentecost 8   26 July 2020  1 Kings 3:5-12  and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52  

It’s tempting to react to stress, change and uncertainty with a desire to manage and control what we can, to be active and proactive.  The Church has been flung into a new world, where worship and meetings go online, and where face-to-face is risky.  It’s a world of opportunities and losses, of potential renewal and potential decline.  We don’t really know where we will be in six months’ time, let alone a year hence.  So we are tempted to say:  “But let’s start building the Kingdom of God anyway!”

The ‘parables of the Kingdom’ in our Gospel give us a timely reminder that the initiative is God’s, and the action is God’s.  The first two – the mustard seed and the yeast – point to a persistent weed and an irrepressible fungus which simply get on and grow, whether you want them to or not.  Nothing could stop God sending Jesus to live amongst us;  nothing could stop the growth of Christian faith, and nothing will deter God’s action in the future, though it may take forms that are surprising and unexpected to us.

The second two parables – about selling everything for the treasure and the pearl – describe the kind of action God takes.  Jesus prized humanity, however ‘feeble’ our frame (as the hymn puts it), and gave everything he had for us.  The word used in today’s gospel for ‘bought’ means ‘redeemed’;   we were redeemed for the price of Jesus’ life, because he counted us – even us – to be a treasure and a pearl of great price. God’s kingdom comes at a price that love is willing to pay.

In the face of such dedicated, persistent love and purpose, our own home-grown ideas and plans of how to ‘bring about the Kingdom of God on earth’ are misplaced.  Solomon got it right when he did not ask for what he thought would be most useful, but simply for wisdom to know God’s will for his people.  The Kingdom of justice, compassion, and peace will be God’s gift to us, not our own achievement. 

May we commit ourselves to follow God’s lead, wherever it might take us and whatever it might cost.

Reflection for Pentecost 7   19 July 2020    Romans 8:14-25 and Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus tells a parable of a farmer who sowed good seed in his field and then found weeds growing up amongst them, sown by an enemy. He was faced with a real dilemma:  remove the weeds and risk damaging the good seed, or let them grow together and risk damaging the crop?  There are many times in our lives when we may be faced with choices to which there is no clear and easy answer.  For Jesus too, in his deep humanity, there were complex situations:  do I expel Judas from the Twelve or allow him to stay for the time being?  Do I escape from Gesthemane or allow my arrest?

Our present crisis has thrown up new choices to be made.  Do I go and help a vulnerable relative or stay away to protect them from any infection that I might bring?  Do I stay furloughed in the hope that my job will survive or do I hunt for another one?  Do we open the church building yet?  Do we go to the church yet? 

It’s important that we discern carefully what is governing our choices. The bishops were clear that restrictions on worship were made not from fear but from love:  the care that we have for the well-being of others, which is at the heart of God.  And decisions that we make which affect others must always try to reflect the mind of God, by seeking the flourishing of their body, mind and spirit.

We will get some of our choices wrong, and some we will find impossible to make. St Paul wrote about the agonising condition we live in as children of God, waiting in hope for the new birth of all creation.  The Spirit is working alongside us to guide our steps, but knows that our world is imperfect, often ambiguous and puzzling.

Our hope, though, can be sure because we have a Father who is full of understanding and forgiveness.  Day by day and week by week, we come in penitence and trust for forgiveness and renewal.  St Paul calls us to learn hope in the darkness: ‘For who hopes for what is seen?’  As we stumble and grope towards the light, let us keep the infinite love of God before our eyes as the true measure of all that we decide.

Reflection for Pentecost 6   12 July 2020     Isaiah 55:10-13 and  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

I was so excited to receive a card with wildflower seeds embedded in it.  I immersed the whole card in compost, potted the little seedlings on and then planted them out carefully in a flowerbed. Not quite the same as the ‘broadcast’ method used by the sower in the parable!  The sower simply flings the seed into the air, without preparing the ground, removing stones and weeds or watering.

We’ve seen some of the delightful results of nature’s broadcast ways with verges and roundabouts left to themselves for months.  Flowers and grasses have thrived, blooming from seeds blown by the wind.  The sower of the parable had confidence that his seeds would find the right place to grow and flourish, and so showered them widely and freely.  It’s a wonderful image of God’s extravagant, bold generosity and grace, and the wild energy of the Spirit.

Perhaps we could grow a wildflower patch as we develop the garden at St Modoc’s, to remind us of the freedom and beauty of the Gospel as we broadcast it.  We have identified the garden as a wonderful resource, a beautiful space that we can offer to the community around us, and this will be, in a way, our broadcasting of the Word.

When the people of God turn outwards to share their riches with others, they have no idea how the Spirit will blow, or where the seeds will land, or which will bear the fruit that God seeks to nurture.  We will need to have the boldness of the sower, and faith that God will give the growth – that God’s word will not return to us fruitless, but, as Isaiah foresaw, will accomplish that which God purposes.

It’s good to be looking forward now to being led back to our church building and the worship there that we love.  But the Spirit will always be blowing seeds here and there and certainly beyond its walls.  Let us pray that they find welcoming and fruitful ground.

Reflection for Pentecost 5    5 July 2020   Romans 7: 14-25 and Matthew 11:16-19; 28-30

Many have experienced ups and downs during this strange time.  Our moods may go from brisk energy to low gloom;  our relationships may display loving care or irritable frustration;  our future may be blank and grey or full of sunshine and hope. 

John the Baptist and Jesus spoke to the two sides of us that fight within – as St Paul described so vividly in the reading from Romans. John came to call people to repentance, a turning from sin and all that is destructive in our souls.  Jesus proclaimed a celebration and a feast, the coming of the kingdom and humanity made one with God.

Jesus came after John, but our tendency to sin – our falling short of God’s standards – continues even after we have turned to Christ. There is no quick shortcut to sanctification.  As a Lutheran pastor wrote: “We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual improvement.  We are simultaneously sinner and saint.”

If we can find the humility to accept that condition, we will find God with us.  In our stronger, better moments, we can find the spiritual energy to ‘come to Jesus’, and find the rest he promised.  But when life is harder and bleaker, we can only pray for Jesus to come to us.

The WW1 poet Studdert Kennedy wrote a ‘Shell hole meditation’ entitled ‘Come unto me’ which ends:
We groan, and try, and fail again,
                                 We cannot come – we are but men,
                                 Come Thou to us, O Lord.
                                 Come Thou and find us.
                                 Shepherd of the sheep,

                                 We cannot come to Thee.
                                 It is so dark.
                                               But hark,
                                 I hear a voice that sounds across the sea.
                                               "I come.”
(for full text see )

Reflection for Feast of St Peter    28 June 2020   Acts 12:1-11 and Matthew 16:13-19

The technical meaning of ‘lockdown’ is the confinement of prisoners in their cells.  For many vulnerable people across the world, that is what the last few months have felt like.  In normal times, we can also experience an inner ‘lockdown’ because of a sense of futility, doubt or shame.  The story of St Peter’s escape from prison invites us to ponder not only our gradual emergence from physical lockdown, but what it might mean to be spiritually free.

As we noticed last week, Jesus foresaw that his followers would suffer for their faith, and Peter’s incarceration followed swiftly on James’ execution.  The church prayed for him ‘fervently’ – the word means ‘fully stretched out’ – with all their effort and stamina. It’s so important to remember and give thanks that the whole Church prays for you and for me, and that it will go on praying for us all.

An angel woke Peter up and said ‘Get up quickly!’  In chains, in physical or spiritual lockdown, we need help.  We need someone who will gently stir us or maybe jolt us into action.  Sometimes, we may have the immense privilege of tapping someone on the side and waking them up to the possibility of freedom.

Peter had to get ready, clothing himself for action.  He fastened his belt – traditionally the sign of self-restraint, that is, not exploiting others.  After lockdown, we cannot have an undisciplined freedom.  Peter also put on his sandals, ready for a journey into the unknown.

Peter’s escape route was a narrow alley.  ‘For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it’. (Matt.7:14)  Freedom may not mean ease but it does mean possibility. Peter was given time to share his faith and build up the Church, and he knew that God had set him free: ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me’.

Charles Wesley was inspired by Peter’s liberation for his hymn ‘And can it be’:        
            Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
            Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
            Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
            I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
            My chains fell off, my heart was free,
            I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Reflection for Pentecost 3  21st June 2020    Romans 6:1-11 and Matthew 10:24-31

Last week I noticed a bumble bee trying to fly but repeatedly dropping onto the grass.  I lifted it onto a leaf with some diluted jam on it, and placed it on a wall.  Next morning, it was gone. It’s good to have time to notice the little creatures around us and pay them some attention. 

One bumble bee will not make much difference to the regeneration of the earth, but how do we measure a creature’s or person’s value anyway?  We are currently faced with huge moral questions about how expendable the vulnerable are if restrictions are eased, or how many risks we can take with young people’s education.  There are now calculations such as ‘VSL’ (value of statistical life) and a ‘QALY’ (quality-adjusted life year) - to inform public policy. They are important and helpful but dangerously abstract.

Jesus was reassuring the disciples about the threats they would face when he spoke about the Father noticing the sparrows. Their witness to him might involve their death.  But, he promised, each one of them is known and precious to God.  In the light of well over 400,000 deaths worldwide from Covid-19, we need to find ways to express that promise.  The Congregational Church of Greenwich, Connecticut plants a white flag in their grounds for everyone who has died in the state – now over 2000 – and prays over them daily. 

As we continue to follow the statistics and the policy debates, let us always remember how God sees us:  as children each created in God’s image, valued simply because we are;   known, cherished, noticed – whether we live or die.

Reflection for Pentecost 2  14 June 2020    Romans 5:1-8 and Matthew 9:35-38; 10:5-8

The Greek legend of Pandora tells how she opened a jar left in her care and let out all sorts of evils into the world – war, disease and death among them.  All that remained at the bottom of the jar was hope.  

But what sort of hope do we need?  The early Christians – apostles, disciples, St Paul, the little churches founded in Asia Minor – were faced with many trials.  Their very existence was threatened by local persecution and the great might of Rome.  Jesus said he was sending them out ‘like sheep in the midst of wolves’
(Mt. 10:16).  And the people they were to serve lived on the breadline, afflicted with disease and demonic oppression.  ‘Hope’ must have seemed an absurd luxury, flying in the face of facts.  And yet St Paul insisted it was there, real and robust, in the midst of their sufferings.

There is certainly a false hope that does us no good.  If we persist in far-fetched longing for what is never likely to be, then we shall be disappointed. The disciples longed for a military Messiah to overthrow Rome, and said to Jesus ‘We had hoped …’ that he was the one.  We have had our own hopes and fantasies for a speedy ‘return to normal’ which have turned out to be false. St Paul was not talking about this kind of hope.

Christian hope is about a person rather than about estimating what will happen.  We do not know about the future – but we do know God in the person of Jesus Christ.  As Christians, we decide to be open to God, to enter into a relationship of trust and love.  We believe that God wants what is good for us; that God will seek to bless us and help us to grow into the fullness of our humanity.   This might well be through ‘suffering and endurance’, but we accept whatever comes from God’s hands because ‘God proves his love for us … for Christ died for us’  (Rom.5:8)

As we open ourselves more and more to the love God pours into our hearts, our hope becomes more and more secure that however things turn out, God can bring us blessing. This crisis calls for Christians to affirm hope for the world in the midst of suffering, because many will see only a dark, bereaved, deprived future.  We can help people to commit to life once more by pointing to God’s gift of new beginnings, new possibilities – ‘the good news of the kingdom’.   

Reflection for Trinity Sunday  7th June 2020  Genesis 1:1-2, 26-31 and Matthew 28:16-20

Perhaps we should not be surprised that the world continues to display both the worst and best of human activity.  Racism reveals the ugly desire to dominate and assert the self against those who are different. It is clear that the Covid-19 crisis has given the opportunity to make excess profit from public need, and to flout restrictions to accommodate personal wishes and plans.  Selfishness comes to the fore.

And yet we have also seen clear self-sacrifice, from those who care for others in every sphere of life, from the young who see their futures become invisible, and from our own acceptance of limits on our lives. There is always the temptation to put ourselves first, but we know deep down that we flourish truly when we turn outwards in generosity.

A key message of Christian faith is that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).  At the very centre of our being is the self-giving love of God, who as Father delighted in his beloved Son, who in turn freely gave up himself for humanity on the Cross, and poured out his Spirit who breathes the fire of love into our hearts and raises them to our loving Father.  The Trinity embodies loving exchange and mutual sustaining.

This self-giving, life-giving mutual love that is at the heart of the Trinity will be key to the ‘renewal of the earth’ that we prayed for at Pentecost last week.  Either we return to the ‘me-first’, exploiting, polluting, anxious jungle that once seemed so ‘normal’, or we step forward into the mutual, co-operative, modest, peaceful haven that we discovered here and there during lockdown.

The good news is that we did discover self-giving love amongst our fellow-human beings, all created in God’s image.  Christians can name this presence of the loving Trinity in our world;  point to the footprints of the Trinity in the paths we all tread;  encourage those around us with the truth that God in Christ came to restore the true divine image in our hearts.  And then the Spirit will lead us into action:  working with all humanity around us to join with God in building the kingdom on earth. 

Reflection for Pentecost   31 May 2020    Acts 2:1-6; 12-17  and John 20:19-23

We normally take our breathing for granted.  The Covid-19 virus has changed that:  many have experienced a terrifying inability to fill their lungs with air.  Some have had oxygen piped into their bodies, and some have even had a ventilator take over their breathing for them.  The experience of such helplessness must be devastating;  the relief at being able to breathe once again, for the fortunate ones who recover, must be immense.

Breath is the element of life.  It was the moment when God breathed into the first human that Adam ‘became a living being’ (Genesis 2:7). We read that Jesus breathed on the disciples with the Holy Spirit to fill them with his divine life and power.  On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came ‘as a sound like the rush of a violent wind’, breathing life into the Church, Christ’s body here on earth. 

As God’s creation, we are breathed into life by the Spirit, and our existence as humans, as disciples and as the Church depends on God’s breath.  But the Holy Spirit is about more than just existence and survival.  God seeks to renew the face of the earth. 

The lockdown has slowed our lives, so that we have had time to notice things, such as the purer air around us without so much traffic pollution. Our eyes have been opened to the possibilities of re-balancing the world’s life to make it less damaging, less unfair.  This moment is a real gift of God to us to ‘renew the face of the earth’.  What visions and dreams might we have about our community, our environment, our message to the world?  Where might the Holy Spirit be bringing a ‘breath of fresh air’ into our lives?

Reflection for the 7th Sunday of Easter  24 May 2020   Acts 1:6-11 and John 17:1-11

As we look ahead to ‘returning to the world’ after lockdown, we become aware that we shall have been changed by the experience.  For some people, the Covid-19 crisis is a searing experience that has caused great personal agony, sadness and deprivation.  For others, the more generalised anxiety and frustration has made them wary and inward-looking.  For many, the intensity of the joys of nature and (albeit remote) friendship has released a gratitude and simplicity they are glad to discover.

We are changed by what we undergo, and Jesus was no exception when he entered into our human nature.  The ‘work’ that the Father gave him was nothing less than the costly reconciliation of the world through his own utter, loving self-sacrifice.  He experienced temptation, rejection, betrayal and pain, as well as the joys of healing and teaching and sharing meals. 

Jesus returned to the Father at the Ascension with scars on his hands and his feet and his sides. The humanity that he raised for ever into the Godhead was wounded but redeemed and glorified. Only through entering into the depths of our human experience, both good and bad, could he transform us into God’s new creation.

What will we be when we emerge again into the world that God has set us in, ready for the ‘work’ he has given us to do?  We will bear the marks of this experience, for good or ill.  With God’s grace, our wounds will be wounds of love, of caring, of forgiveness, and our glory will be a passion to be one with each other, as Christ is one with the Father.

Reflection for the 6th Sunday of Easter  17 May 2020   1 Peter 3:13-17 and John 14:15-21

‘Lives put on hold’ – a phrase heard quite often about how people have been affected by the Covid-19 virus.  Whether it’s your school or college studies, your work, your leisure activities, your family gatherings, all seems to be held in suspended animation, as if the ‘pause button’ has been pressed and ‘play’ is never allowed.  Yet, life goes on and babies are born, plants and crops grow, the chores don’t go away.

As we wait for predicted changes in our situation – which will happen ‘sometime’ – we share the experience of the disciples.  They awaited the predicted Passion; then they looked for the predicted Resurrection.  Next, the risen Jesus predicted that he would return to the Father at some point; next, he foretold, the Holy Spirit would come to them. Beyond that, Christ promised to come again in glory.   Each stage might have been a time of limbo, when the disciples wondered if it was worth doing anything – yet.

These odd times we live in belong to God, and have their own special value and opportunity.  An American Quaker, Stephen Grellet (d. 1855), wrote:

I expect to pass through this world but once.  Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness I can show to
any human being, let me do it now.  Let me not defer
or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

We may look back on lockdown and identify real moments of grace that brought us closer to God and to one another.  We may remember ways of speaking and acting that we realise were God’s Spirit working through us, to ease another’s pain or lift another’s mood.  Then we will be able to give thanks that we did indeed ‘keep God’s commandments and love Jesus’ (John 14:21), in these days that we will not live again.

One thing we have learned is that life is unpredictable, and that tomorrow may be very different from today.  ‘Today’ is what God has created and given us; it is what we know now, the day made for us to live out well.  

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2 –

‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
   and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

Reflection for 5th Sunday of Easter  10 May 2020   1 Peter 2:1-10  and John 14:1-7

We may lament that we cannot worship in church just now, but our experience is not unknown.  The Jewish people have valued worship at home ever since the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  The Sabbath meal in the Jewish home, its prayers and blessings, is a rock-solid part of their worship and spirituality.

The early Christians under persecution, like modern Christians in some countries today, had to find ways to worship in homes and hidden places.  That makes you let go of a particular building, and find stability in people – what 1 Peter calls ‘a spiritual household’.

The most important person is Christ, the ‘cornerstone’, a large stone at the base of the building. It makes the building ‘rock-solid’.  The walls are ‘living stones’ – people of growing faith who each help to build a living Temple, where God’s presence and mercy are found.

Not being able to worship in the church building is hard, but it does turn us to worship and prayer at home, and the living out of our faith in daily life. I know that several of you are rejoicing in the quiet spiritual moments of this otherwise challenging period.  We find indeed that there are ‘many dwelling places in the Father’s house’ (John 14:2) – including our own.

We also discover the priesthood of all God’s people.  A priest is called to offer worship, to consecrate, reconcile and bless.  And likewise we are all called – especially at this time when the world needs God so much – to pray;   to make our time, our relationships, indeed all of our lives pleasing to God;  and to be a blessing to those around us. 

And eventually, the Church, the living Temple, will return to the building, but greater and stronger than before, rising firm and beautiful upon its sure foundation, the risen Christ.

Reflection for Fourth Sunday of Easter - 'Good Shepherd Sunday' 3rd May 2020
Psalm 23 and John 10:10-10

As the snows on the hills melt, traditional herdsmen will start leading their flocks onto summer pastures, often high into the mountains. There, the cool and moisture enable sweet grass and shrubs to grow, helping the sheep to fatten up well for the winter.

To get to these nourishing heights, the shepherd will have to take the sheep through dark valleys, shaded by the mountain slopes – think ‘Glencoe’ (which I have never seen in sunlight).  The flock will be utterly dependent on him for the route, for defence against predators, and for keeping them going onwards.

The gospel today is all about learning to trust Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who knows his flock by name.  Our faith is a very personal one, that rests not on talking and thinking about God but on relating to God as a person.

Psalm 23 starts by talking about God – ‘he’, the shepherd who looks after his sheep.  But when the going gets rough and the sheep find themselves in the ‘darkest valley’, they call personally to the shepherd:  ‘you are with me … your rod and staff … you prepare a table …’.   They are aware of God’s presence with them, the Good Shepherd’s closeness and reality.

The Psalm is honest about life:  it’s a trek, which leads into the darkest valley before the upland meadow.  Even the last verse voices a rather brave hope, as if saying ‘despite appearances to the contrary … I am sure that …’    We are sure because in our own current dark valley, we know the risen Jesus as a person, as a presence with us, when we stop and pray and worship and reflect.

In fact, it’s almost always in the darkest valley that ‘He’ becomes ‘You’.

Reflection for Third Sunday of Easter  26 April 2020   Gospel:  Luke 24:13-35  

Reflection:  The pace of life has slowed right down, and we are gradually realising that there will be no quick victory over this virus, no rapid cure or vaccine, no early return to ‘life as normal’.  ‘But we had hoped …’ for what?   That we were experiencing a short nightmare.  That we would get off more lightly than other places.  That the death toll would not be so high, nor the economic distress so bad.   We had hoped too that our personal plans could have worked out, and that our church life would have been restored by now.  We hoped, basically, that resurrection would not take too long.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were deeply disappointed, their hopes dashed, and their expectations crushed. ‘We had hoped …  but it is now the third day since …’   They walk along the road with heads down, with ‘their eyes kept from recognising him’.  All they see is the dusty uphill track, the narrow path, the closed-in future.

Like some of us taking our ‘daily exercise’, the risen Jesus is out for a slow, quiet afternoon walk along the lonely road.  He gets the bowed disciples to lift up their heads and see the bigger picture, the wider world. From the first steps to freedom under Moses to the raising of the Messiah in glory at Easter, he revealed to them the story of our liberation, won through his suffering and utter commitment to us in love.  It’s a massive epic of God’s care for us, from the beginning of time stretching far into eternity. 

But the real wonder of this story is that Jesus – the Son of God, the crowned victor of God’s majestic sweep of salvation – is ‘made known to the disciples in the breaking of bread’, in the everyday, humble experience of each one of us. Many of us have discovered the marvel and the divine miracle of everyday things during this strange time.  The joy of a bird or a lamb;  the delight of a nice meal or drink;  the pleasure of a good book or film;  the warmth of a phone call.  God blesses us through them, and they are true sacraments of his grace – outward and visible human signs of God’s presence within.

May we learn to live in God’s time and presence, full of faith in his ways, full of gratefulness for his love shown in each minute of our days.

Reflection for Second Sunday of Easter   19 April 2020   Gospel:  John 20:19-31 

‘The doors of the house … were locked for fear …’   

John’s gospel brings us right down to earth after the joy of the Resurrection garden.  The disciples were terrified that the political or religious authorities would be out to get them as well as Jesus.  They might even undergo the savage death that he did. All was not sweetness and Easter light. They were in real fear of the ‘outside’.

We have had ‘Stay Home!’ dinned into us for weeks, and our doors are shut to the outside.  We have a proper concern for safety, both our own and that of others.  It is a work of responsible love to shut the door, ‘protect the NHS and save lives’.  But I sense a growing fear and distrust as well.

Standing on a doorstep on a Thursday evening at 8 pm to clap medical and care workers, people called across the road to their neighbours, loudly but briefly, before almost hurrying back indoors.  On Friday, Callander folk were stretched along the pavements (at 2 metre intervals) to clap the funeral cortรจge of our Postmaster.  It was a great chance to catch up with friends legitimately, but many were stiff and scuttled off back home after the briefest of conversations. Will a proper degree of caution become a frightened distancing?  Will we lose the arts of connecting with each other in person?  Human nature is more robust than that, but I find the current mood disquieting.

‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”.’
We need God’s peace to calm our fears and help us to be in our right mind.  Whilst we must be sensible, we must also rest in God and trust in God’s care, whatever happens.  When we know the peace of God’s presence – of Jesus standing among us, outside our locked doors as well as inside them – then we will recover our loving humanity and joy in human fellowship.

The risen Christ appeared to the disciples with visible, raw wounds.  We too will be wounded in various ways by this crisis – maybe through personal traumas, or by sharing the grief of others, or because we have been overcome with fear and distrust. 

But the wounded Christ is still the risen Christ, who has power to renew us and bring all humanity to a new birth.  Let us pray that his presence within us will speak peace to those around us, dispelling fear and bringing new life to our precious, fragile human communities.

Reflection for Easter Sunday   12 April 2020    Gospel:   John 20:1-18

“While it was still dark.”  Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb – the first sign of the Resurrection – in the darkness before dawn.  It was not the sunny, flowery scene that we sometimes see in paintings showing the garden of the Resurrection.  As the song goes, ‘The darkest hour is just before dawn’.

In that darkness, Mary could only see the loss of her beloved Lord;  she only felt uncertainty and fear – “I do not know where they have laid him …”  The shadows around her had got into her heart and soul, and she was despairing. 

Nor did Peter and John ‘see the light’ straightaway.  “As yet, they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead.”  Like the other disciples, they only realised later that everything had changed, and that Jesus had been raised.

But what had changed?  Little, it seemed, on the outside:  the Romans were still in charge as an occupying force;  the religious authorities still held power; there was still poverty and sickness. What had changed was God’s power to transform his creation from within, starting with hearts and souls that had been loosed from the chains of fear and set free to live with joy as children of God. Mary heard someone call to her ‘Woman!’ and as she turned and responded, Jesus called her ‘Mary’.  When we turn and respond to Jesus, we are freed to see him truly, as our brother – whose Father is his and ours. 

For us, it still seems like the hour before dawn.  Nothing has changed much outside this morning – we are still in lockdown and people are still suffering.  But the place to look for light is not in the tomb, not in the shadows around us, but in our hearts. 

We know that this crisis is changing and transforming us spiritually, within, and that we are discovering that our faith really does bring life.  We find we need to pray – to draw close to God, to be open to him.  We find we have depths of love and concern that we did not know about.

When we hear the voice of the risen Lord calling us each by name, with love and compassion, we know that death can never triumph, because we are eternally loved and cherished by God.  Like Mary, we can shout with joy ‘I have seen the Lord!’ for he is alive in our hearts and in our world. 

“For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave … Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Songs 8:6-7)

Reflection for Maundy Thursday   9 April 2020   Gospel:  John 13:1-17

John does not relate the blessing and sharing of bread and wine at the Last Supper, although the other three gospels do.  His focus is on Jesus teaching the disciples who he is, and how they should serve one another, and so he describes vividly how Jesus washed their feet at the meal.

It’s an amazing lesson in humility:  a menial task unheard of for a Rabbi, and unthinkable for the Son of God.  But there he was, stooping down, cleaning the dirt and dust of the road from bare feet, gently drying them with a towel.  After all the squabbles that the disciples had over ‘who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’, and the jostling to sit at the right hand and left hand of the Lord in heaven, Jesus shows them what true greatness is:  to humble yourself as a servant of all.

Such humility comes only from learning to receive service and love. It shatters our pride to receive help and accept our dependence. Baring our vulnerable, soiled feet for the Master to wash and care for is an impossible thing to do, but we must do it – in spirit, at least. For it is how we allow God to love us and John puts it, to ‘show us the full extent of his love’. 

Jesus’ whole sacrifice, from foot-washing to the Cross, was an act of love.   Love is the only motivation we can have for Christian service – not satisfying some need in ourselves, or thinking that it makes us look good.  And we will only love purely when we have learned to accept the love and service of others.

This crisis is giving us the opportunity to love and serve one another. But perhaps the most valuable lesson we are learning is how to accept help, breaking down our defences of pride and independence, and finding that the gentle touch of Christ is offered to us in that help.

The giving and receiving of love is the heart of the Eucharist. Christ’s life is broken, poured out and shared, just as we offer ourselves to be given to God and to one another in service.

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
 let me be as Christ to you;
 pray that I may have the grace to
 let you be my servant too.

Reflection for Palm Sunday  5th April 2020     Gospel:  Matthew 21:1-11 and 26:14-27:66

The media are full of pictures and stories of people and their experiences during this crisis.  There is a great thirst for hearing about what it’s like to be shut in, to be working in a hospital, to be a policeman, a parent, a child. Future generations will ask us about the Coronavirus pandemic, ‘What was it like?’  ‘What happened?’ ‘What did you do?’

We are witnesses to momentous times, just as the people of Jerusalem and Jesus’ disciples were on Palm Sunday.  What does being a witness involve, and how can we serve God as witnesses? Witnesses observe what is going on, and try to be attentive.  They are aware of other people, and events, and also aware of how they and others are feeling and reacting.  The story of Palm Sunday is full of vivid detail, and words, and action, so that we can imagine ourselves there. 

But even if witnesses are alert, they do not know everything.  The people of Jerusalem saw a Messiah, but did not know that Jesus would die on a cross.  The story unfolded as they witnessed it.  They could not jump ahead to the Crucifixion, let alone the Resurrection.  We too must be patient witnesses to the drama that is unfolding before us, for we cannot see very far ahead, whether for ourselves and our loved ones, or for the world as a whole.

‘Being a witness’ sounds passive, as if we are simply observing but not doing anything.  Yet witnessing is a real service that we can offer in God’s name.  It’s hard to watch the suffering of others, hard to feel their pain and fear.  We want to look away; we want to think of more pleasant things and happier times.

Perhaps the greatest service that Mary the mother of Jesus, and the other women at the foot of the Cross, could offer was simply watching and witnessing Jesus’ suffering.  Being alongside someone, even if you feel helpless, offers immeasurable support.  And then ‘bearing witness’ to what they have gone through confirms its truth, its depth and reality.

Holy Week is about ‘bearing witness’ to Jesus’ Passion:  not turning away, not flinching, but standing alongside him and all who suffer.

Reflection for Passion Sunday  29th March 2020  Gospel:  John 11:1-45

Christians are often called a ‘pilgrim people’, who are on a journey towards the light and life that God promises us in Christ.  We do not stay stuck in one place; we look ahead to what can be, and what will be.

The story of Lazarus tells of a journey through darkness to light and life that we can share.  It starts with Lazarus falling ill and then dying, and being placed in a tomb.  His life is over;  he has stone walls around him; all that was precious and lovely for him has ended.  These times are also dark and confining for us, and we miss so much of our ‘previous’ life.

When Jesus declared his plan to go to minister to Martha and Mary (Lazarus’ sisters) at Bethany, near Jerusalem, his disciples were frightened. They knew he would face opposition and even death.  People are facing extraordinary dangers just now, especially hospital and care workers.  Their dedication to others is a sacrifice that we must support in prayer and by our own behaviour.

Martha and Mary showed all the angry signs of their grief and anxiety, reproaching Jesus for not coming in time to save Lazarus.  In the current crisis, we have seen fear and anxiety break out in angry outbursts and guilt be shown in the arrogant dismissal of blame.  We often behave badly when we are hurt and worried.  Jesus shares the tumult of our feelings and conquered them by his utter trust in the Father and the unconquerable power of Life.

After Lazarus had been in the tomb four days, Jesus called, ‘Lazarus, come out!’   It’s going to be a lot longer for us before we hear that invitation.  It will test our faith, our patience and our resilience.  We know that eventually, we will be able to enjoy life outside the walls of our houses, free to gather and talk and celebrate.  It will be a kind of resurrection. 

But Passion Sunday reminds us that this Life was bought at a heavy cost by Jesus, and that it changed everything. Our life will not be the same.  May God give us the grace to make it a better one, building God’s kingdom here on earth in love and justice and freedom.

Reflection for Mothering Sunday 22nd March 2020   Readings:   1 Samuel 1:20-28;  John 19: 25b-27
Mothering Sunday this year is decidedly difficult for some because it’s going to be very hard for mothers and their offspring to be near each other, let alone give each other a hug.  Caring for someone else means not just caring about what happens to them, but also being near enough to do something practical and loving.

In our first reading, we heard about Hannah.  A barren woman, she had prayed to God for a child and vowed to dedicate him to God’s service.  But what was it like for her to hand him over as a newly-weaned child to the priest Eli and leave him in the Temple?  She would be parted from him, unable to soothe him or encourage him, unable to feed him or nurse him if he became ill.

In our gospel reading, Jesus faces being parted from his mother, for he is about to die on the Cross. He handed her over to the ‘Beloved disciple’, who was to look after her.  Jesus would be unable to soothe her or encourage her, unable to feed her or nurse her as she aged. 

We may feel anxious or frustrated that we cannot be on hand to care for our loved ones during this crisis.  We may have to rely on the kindness of neighbours and friends.  We shall certainly have to learn to trust in the goodness of God and the steadfastness of God’s love.  One way is to imagine leading our loved one by the hand towards Christ, and gently placing their hand in his hand.

Our love for parents, children and friends has to deepen into this trusting commitment of them to God.  One day we shall have to let them go fully into God’s presence, and one day we too shall enter that eternal life.  But we will remain one with them in love for ever, just as we are one with them now in love and in spirit, even if we are far apart.  Nothing can separate us from that love.