Saturday, 24 February 2018

Lent 2: Jesus receives His cross: Pauline West

He receives; he accepts; he carries the cross.

The picture is full of symbolism. I asked a friend to look at it and share with me what she saw physically and what she felt emotionally. After a time of silence we shared and shared and shared. There was so much reminding us of Jesus’ life seen through the stories in the gospels; there were so many emotions and declarations of intent coming from the figure with the cross. So I invite you to sit with the picture; gaze at it; let it remind you of what you know about Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit; let it stir a mix of emotions, emotions that are God’s as Jesus receives the cross.

He receives; he accepts; he carries the cross.

We receive many things; we do not always accept them and if we do we may not go on to make them part of our life. Jesus did all three with the cross. The cross was seen as a symbol of shame; rejection and suffering. In his ministry indeed, you could argue, from his birth Jesus receives, accepts and carries all three symbols of the cross. He carried their burden for the sake of others bowed down by these realities. He carried them with an intense desire that people should know God also carries them. And because he carried them the burden was lighter for the people, hope was born, and life was offered. It is the same today.

For me in the picture the purity of God is receiving and accepting the impurities of his beloved creation. Jesus knows what he is doing. There is strength and determination in the face and the cross is held ready to be lifted up in glory. The journey to that end will be indescribably hard. That is the journey we attempt to understand in Lent. The symbols in the picture surround Jesus with memories of promises fulfilled in the past in heaven and on earth: memories that sustain the journey to its glorious end.

Jesus receives the cross. By following him we receive ours: our invitation to be vulnerable in the love of God to the frailty of our neighbours and ourselves and open to the power of God.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Lent 1: Jesus is sentenced to death: Ian Green

The trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate is a travesty of justice and surely a classic example of weak leadership crumbling before the popular vote.

It’s ironic that the very ‘peace’ Pilate is so keen to preserve is threatened by the very chaos he causes in making Jesus into a ‘referrendum’ issue from his balcony.

Pilate is an intelligent man and seems to know Jesus is innocent of the charges made against him, yet in the end he wants to please those who brought the charges.  Maybe he owed them a favour or perhaps he just knew that staying in power always demands sleazy deals with truth the first casualty.

So in the end the choice between the two Jesuses, one Barabbas, the other of Nazareth, was always a done deal and never in doubt.  The crowd, for some reason easily stoked with hatred by the religious authorities, cry for the crucifixion of the Nazareth Jesus.

This is a rushed, ill thought through affair and one deeply compromised by the lemming like popularism of ‘The Mob’.

When individuals gather together there is the potential for so much that is good.  Yet that potential can so quickly become soured by mis-information, weak leadership and behind the scenes bullying.  And when that happens a co-operative community can change so quickly into a negative society.

Yet I want to go on believing in, and working at community.

This week I made a pastoral visit to one of our members at Stoke Mandeville hospital:  I walked past the Spinal Injuries Gym and saw patients being put through their paces by committed staff, I enquired at reception as to the whereabouts of our church member and was met by such helpfulness, I went down to the ward and heard nurses chatting to patients offering advice and encouragement.  I talked to the lady I’d come to see and she told me how well she had been treated in being given a new hip after falling at home.

Again and again I meet people who are indebted to the NHS and speak with such warmth about the sense of supportive community they experience whilst in hospital.

Yet in Pilate and the mob outside his balcony window we see something very negative in the human condition – the collective bad judgment of an irrational and ill-informed mob. Yet it is a mob that wields power and influence.

By contrast take a walk to your local hospital and nine times out of ten you’ll experience some of the very best expressions of community.

Pilate washes his hands in an attempt to absolve himself of responsibility.

Doctors, nurses and surgeons wash theirs in order to show practical and down to earth compassion.

I think we all know the sort of washing that pleases God.